Pretty Princess Sails Away Sick

Season's first case of norovirus

Nearly 350 stricken, CDC boards Island Princess in Skagway

By GREY HUDDLESTON
At least 348 passengers and crew members from the Island Princess cruise ship were infected with a norovirus during the ship’s stop in Skagway June 2.
Passengers that reported symptoms of the gastrointestinal disease were kept on board the ship, but the outbreak caused an infection scare among some local merchants, tour operators and citizens.
“They quarantine everyone, so those people didn’t come off,” said Ryan Huff at Cruise Line Agencies.
Shaun Keef, administrator of the Dahl Memorial Clinic, said the clinic had not seen any patients infected with the virus.
Stuart Brown, owner of SMART, addressed the Skagway City Council at its June 3 meeting and said the city should develop a plan for dealing with the possibility of norovirus coming into town from cruise ships.
“Our drivers should be protected, and visitors on the busses should be protected too,” Brown said.
Presence of the virus was first reported on May 31. Dean Brown, CEO of Princess Cruises and Tours, told the Associated Press that the cruise line brought sanitizing materials and additional medical and management staff aboard the ship to help contain the virus, and that the sick passengers were kept in isolated rooms to recover.
“We’re very organized in dealing with the norovirus now. We have procedures in place proven to be effective. We’re employing all of those procedures because the health and safety of our passengers and crew are our top priority” Brown said.
Princess Cruises contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) May 31 to report symptoms of the virus among passengers on the ship. A CDC team went on board in Skagway to investigate the outbreak and assist in sanitizing efforts.
Cruise ships are required to report to the CDC if more than two percent of passengers report symptoms of gastrointestinal disease.
The Island Princess filed contingency plans with the Coast Guard in case it was necessary to cut its weeklong voyage short a day. The ship was cruising between Vancouver and Whittier.
The norovirus is not life-threatening, but can cause painful symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting for up to 48 hours. It is spread through food, water, and contact with infected people.
The norovirus episode on the Island Princess was the first reported outbreak on a cruise ship in Alaska this season. By the time the ship reached Whittier most passengers were okay.
Huff said norovirus outbreaks on ships are comparatively rare. “We hear rumors about it, but they’re usually just that. Only rarely do we get an actual case like this,” he said.

Dewey Lakes Special Use Committee addresses in event of road construction

By GREY HUDDLESTON
The Dewey Lakes Special Use District Committee is working to come up with a set of management criteria for city land in the Dewey Lakes area.
The committee was formed by mayoral appointment following a March 4 resolution by City Council recommending the creation of a special management area for the Dewey Lakes Trail System.
Currently, the 1999 City of Skagway Comprehensive Plan designates municipal land in the area as Recreation/Open Space, a category that the city left intentionally vague.
Commercial use is currently prohibited in the area. But if the state Department of Transportation constructs the proposed Juneau Access road through the area, road frontage could open up the area to all types of use, including residential, commercial and industrial, according to current city zoning.
The city is interested in protecting the traditional recreational uses of the area. “It’s definitely an area that people want for recreation,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy, speaking to the committee at its first meeting.
It’s unclear how the committee’s work will affect the area’s status as a potential corridor for the road. “This is not meant to be a barrier to the road,” said Bourcy.
But creating further protections for the area in city code could mean greater mitigation, greater expense, and a greater headache for DOT planners seeking to use the area as part of the road corridor.
“The DOT has very serious concerns about park status, they do not want to see that happen,” said Bourcy.
But the committee has much work to do before making any kind of recommendation for the area to Council.
At the committee’s second meeting on June 8, members worked to identify traditional uses of the area. Some of the uses mentioned include hunting, fishing, hiking, swimming, camping, ice skating, plant gathering, skiing, and the use of motorized vehicles like ATVs and snowmobiles.
The committee also identified the owners of adjoining lands which the committee will have to work with. The area contains a mix of city, state and federal land. Sturgill’s Landing is on U.S. Forest Service Land, while the state Division of Mental Health owns some land along the Icy Lake and Upper Reid Falls trail.
At the committee’s next meeting, they will begin the creation of a draft management plan using the Dyea Flats management plan as a template. The meeting tentatively has been scheduled for June 24 at 7 p.m. in the library.

The Fairweather with its distinct catamaran twin hull, docks in Skagway on May 29. GH

Fast ferry Fairweather sails Lynn Canal

Cuts cruising time to Juneau to less than three hours

After a series of delays, the new fast ferry Fairweather began service to Skagway on June 8. It carried 81 passengers and 14 vehicles.
The Fairweather runs a shuttle between Skagway and Juneau Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The ferry arrives at 3 p.m. and departs for Juneau at 3:30 p.m. On those days it goes between Juneau and Haines in the mornings as well
Fares for the Fairweather are ten percent higher than the fares for other ferrys: a Skagway-Juneau passenger-only ticket on the vessel costs $50, instead of $46 on a mainline vessel.
The Fairweather was also in Skagway May 29 for an open house that allowed citizens to tour all of the new ferry except the engine room.
The Fairweather is the newest vessel in the AMHS fleet. Its unique catamaran-style hull and four diesel-powered waterjets allow it to achieve a service speed of 32 knots, double the 16 knots of the Taku. The ferry’s run to Juneau takes only around 2.5 hours.
“It’s very efficient and extremely light,” said passenger service representative Tom Meyers.
The 235-foot Fairweather has space for 35 vehicles and 250 passengers. Built by Derecktor Shipyards in Bridgeport, Conn., the ferry employs state-of-the-art navigation and safety systems. The interior features reclining airline-style seats as well as table arrangements, with video games and a full-service snack bar. - GH

AMHS adds fuel surcharge, pump prices on slight decline

The Alaska Marine Highway System (AHMS) has added a 10 percent fuel surcharge to all passenger fares on its ferries.
The fare increases came June 10, and only affect passenger tickets, not vechicles, according to an AHMS press release dated June 3.
The increase is a result of greater fuel costs affecting the AMHS budget.
“We are now grossly underbudgeted for fuel in both fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2005. Like other transportation systems we have been impacted by what could amount to millions; and like other modes of transportation, we need to recoup some of those costs,” said new AMHS general manager John Falvey.
Falvey said he hoped the increase was temporary and would be lifted when fuel prices return to lower levels.
Meanwhile, fuel prices at the gas pumps in Skagway have dropped, from a high of $2.71 two weeks ago to $2.58 earlier this week.

CITY DIGEST: Veto overturned, budget tabled
At the June 3 Skagway City Council meeting, members voted 4-1 to override Mayor Tim Bourcy’s veto of an ordinance that allows the city to use another mill of sales tax for the general fund.
The vote came after member Monica Carlson failed to get enough votes for a reconsideration of the ordinance that passed May 20. The votes allowed Council to “buy down” the mill rate by as much as 2.5 mills. By code, they can use 1.5 mills from sales tax, but must take a vote on using an additional mill.
Bourcy vetoed the ordinance because he considered it a bad example while the state is wrestling with its own fiscal situation and contemplating use of the Alaska Permanent Fund to help fund state government.
He offered a compromise of a variety of cuts equal to half a mill each from the general fund and the sales tax fund budgets. Council members said they would entertain them before passing final reading, but tabled the budget to a special meeting on June 10 to get a look at them.
With the veto, the mill rate for Service Area I had jumped to 10.6.
After the override, it was back down to 9.65 for Thursday night’s meeting, held after this edition went to press.
Among the cuts Bourcy proposed were elimination of one of the 911 dispatch positions, postponement of the Coastal Management Plan rewrite for a savings of $20,000, a 20 percent across the board reduction in city travel, and scratching $5,000 for the council table, and $25,000 for the Chamber of Commerce, which Bourcy said should be supported by businesses.
Police Chief Dennis Spurrier defended the 911 dispatch position, saying it reduces overtime expenses and liability. Taking it away would open up the city and council members to criminal liability, he cautioned. The council left the position in the budget.
Spurrier also defended the four-step pay increases in the budget, saying they were long overdue. Ward and Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said they would forego pay increases this year, but said their staffs deserve one. The assistant manager and clerk positions have been rewritten to improve their pay because of their increased work load, Ward added.
But Finance Chair Jay Frey, who cast the only vote against the override, said the four-step increase “needs serious consideration.” It was suggested that maybe the Council should approve two-step increases this year, and two steps next year, but with no consensus reached, the matter was tabled to Thursday night’s special meeting.
The budget hearing drew no public comment on the tax increases, but two days earlier several sounded off at a “Committee of the Whole” meeting.
“If this budget becomes reality, it will result in the greatest tax increase in the history of Skagway,” said former councilman Ed Fairbanks, citing a 36 percent increase in his taxes at Fairway Market.
“Your basic income is $5 million and you’re spending $9 million, this is irresponsible!” he added. By bringing $1 million out of reserves, “The city is on its way to bankruptcy, big time!”
Bourcy wanted to pull half of the sales tax projects off the budget, but Frey said they could stay in because the city does not have to spend the money.
Others sought continued funding of the Skagway Development Council and the Rec. Center, and new funding for the Chamber of Commerce so it may have an office and manager. – JB & GH

ON THE MOVE

The historic Ice House (left), attached to a backhoe off camera, is pulled across Fifth Avenue on pipes by a team from Hamilton Construction on May 29. It moved across the street to National Park Service property next to the Goldberg Cigar Store, which had to be moved (right) to make room. GH

Chief finalists selected, one withdraws; Ward says two will be brought to Skagway
At the June 3 Skagway City Council meeting, City Manager Bob Ward reported that the police chief hiring committee had selected four finalists, but then one withdrew. They were planning to meet again to pick a new fourth finalist, but that had not occurred as of midweek, he said.
Plans now are to bring two of the finalists to Skagway for interviews, Ward said this week. It is unlikely a chief will be able to be selected and in place before current chief Dennis Spurrier retires on July 1. Until a new chief is in town, Sgt. Brent Moody will serve as acting chief, Ward said.
The three finalists identified are:
• Gerald Meece, currently chief and director of public safety in
Klawock, has been a chief in Alaska since 1993, also serving in Bethel and Galena. He has a degree in police administration from Eastern Kentucky Univ.
•Michael DeCapua, currently director of the King County Transit System in Seattle, Wash., is a former retired police chief and director of public safety for the Quinault Indian Reservation in Washington. He also was a police captain in Ashland, Ore. and Juneau, where he served from 1995-1998. Prior to that, he was chief of a department in Kingston, Massachusetts.
• William Frank McLendon III, is currently a grants consultant in Iola, Kansas, having served as chief there for a year until March. Prior to moving to Kansas, he was chief of the Sitka department in Alaska from 1999 to 2002. Before coming to Alaska, he was a police lieutenant and division commander in Euless, Texas, where he served for 23 years before retiring.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

This mountain goat and its partner crossed the Klondike Highway and scampered up the cliffside near the old Venus mine. Goats are rarely seen near the road after the snow melts - must have been the warm weather that drove them down to the lake for a hot date. JB

OTHER STORIES

• HEARD ON THE WIND - Mountain retreat

• BORDER PROTECTION FEATURE

• FISH THIS! - Grayling date on Carcross bridge

• ARTS & EVENTS - Cancer walk preview

• SPORTS - Bike Relay and River Quest previews

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