A Santa convention showed up on a ship last week and posed with the ladies at the Red Onion Brothel Museum. They also sang “Jingle Bells” in the Christmas Store and generally made themselves noticed everywhere they went.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

H1N1 virus confirmed in Skagway patient

27-year-old man has recovered; DMC says five other swabs from Skagway tested negative for ‘swine flu’


Skagway’s first confirmed case of the H1N1 virus has come and gone, but more are expected, said Greg Wilkinson, spokesman from the state’s Department of Health and Social Services, on Wednesday.
A 27-year-old male had a swab taken at the Dahl Memorial Clinic on June 1. The swab tested positive for the “swine flu” virus on June 8 at the state’s virology lab in Fairbanks, Wilkinson said.
By then, the man was feeling better, said DMC Nurse Practitioner Lynne Cameron, in an interview late Wednesday afternoon after the story broke.
The male had traveled outside of the state in early May, but Wilkinson said it was unlikely that he contracted the virus while traveling. He wasn’t sure how the man contracted the virus, but said that it is starting to spread throughout the state.
“H1N1 is here in Alaska,” Wilkinson said.
Cameron said they sent out five other swabs from Skagway, but all had come back negative for any strain of influenza. She encouraged anyone with a fever and cough to get into the clinic and get tested, and to stay home from work to avoid spreading any illness.
Cameron said a few different illnesses are going around, and reminded people to wash their hands carefully and use hand sanitizer with at least 70 percent alcohol. She cautioned anyone handling money, passports, or other goods that touch many hands to be extra careful.
Wilkinson said this probably was not the only case in Skagway, and he anticipated seeing more. The Skagway case is the second in Southeast Alaska. The first was confirmed in Haines on June 4.
Anchorage also had a case confirmed earlier this week, and eight had been confirmed in interior Alaska as of June 10.

UPDATE: Another case was confirmed in Skagway on June 12. A follow-up story will appear in the June 26 issue.

State appeals Juneau Access court ruling
Two-year wait ahead for 9th Circuit action


The state on June 4 filed an appeal of the January federal court decision that halted the Juneau Access project and its preferred alternative, a road from the capital city to Katzehin with connecting shuttle ferries to Haines and Skagway.
The decision was announced by Gov. Sarah Palin in press release.
In his ruling in a case brought by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) against the Juneau Access Project, Jundge John Sedwick of Anchorage decided that the Federal Highway Administration violated federal environmental laws by failing to consider a project alternative that used existing state ferries.
The state disagreed, and apparently exhausted any possibility of a settlement before a June 5 deadline to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“With all due respect, the court is simply wrong,” said Deputy Attorney General Craig Tillery, in a statement. “The record contains data and analysis regarding existing ferry assets and traffic in Lynn Canal. It shows existing vessels cannot meet the purpose and need of the project, particularly reducing travel time and costs.”
That position is backed up by a review of 15 years of data, said Commissioner Leo von Scheben of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “We believe the record is clear: Existing ferries cannot move all of the traffic that would use a road up and down Lynn Canal.”
Tillery added, “While an appeal could take up to two years, the questionable validity of the lower court’s decision leads us to believe that devoting this time now will ultimately shorten the path to final resolution.”
The governor also issued a statement.
“The incredible amount of litigation this project faces shows how difficult it is to build infrastructure in a cost-efficient, responsible, and timely way,” Governor Palin said. “While we are frustrated by the delay, the project is in a position where the technical, legal challenges must be resolved before it can move forward for a full assessment.”
SEACC filed suit along with several other parties, including the Skagway Marine Access Committee (SMAC).
Local resident Jan Wrentmore, a member of SMAC, had applauded the lower court judge’s ruling earlier this year, and hoped for a similar result from the Ninth Circuit.
“We agree with Judge Sedwick’s decision, and I seriously doubt the Ninth Circuit will overturn it,” Wrentmore said, but we’ll have to wait for two years to find out.”

TREED CUBS – The black bear cubs climbed trees for the tourists by Black Lake onMay 29. Local photographer and tour guide Thomas Pickerel used his extra long lens to capture this pair. ThomasPickerel.com

Fish and Game has no luck finding bears after they show off for tourists


A black bear family has been seen around Skagway for about a month, but when Fish and Game tried to track them down this week they couldn’t be found.
Biologist Ryan Scott said he had hoped to fit the mama bear with a GPS tracker that would log her position throughout the summer, and be taken off again next spring. He planned to use the information to learn about her behavior and movement. It would also help him find her – using a radio to hear the collar – if there was a problem later in the summer.
The mama bear has three cubs. One of them is light-colored, and the mother is believed to be the parent of the “Spirit Bear” that was shot a year ago. The mother and cubs were seen getting into garbage last fall and were run off several times by local police. Police asked F&G to move the bears, but they have been behaving themselves so far this spring.
Scott and a colleague came to town on Sunday, and looked for her each morning and evening until they left on Wednesday. They looked all over the Dyea road and at the rifle range, cemetery, and Smuggler’s Cove, and found indicators that bears were around.
“The positive thing for us is that we spent quite a bit of time on the ground and in areas bears are using,” Scott said. “We took away a lot of information about how bears are moving around that hillside.”
Scott wasn’t sure where the mother is now. He said she might have moved farther up the hill for food, or could be getting ready for breeding season. The cubs are old enough to be on their own, so she might be kicking them out, he added.
Originally, Scott was scheduled to come to Skagway to move the mama bear and her cubs. But after talking to the Skagway Police, he decided there wasn’t enough of a problem to relocate them. Scott credited action from people in town for preventing a problem from developing so far.
“Skagway has just made huge strides in addressing urban wildlife concerns,” he said.
Police Chief Ray Leggett said there hadn’t been a problem with the bears yet, although they have been sighted at the north end of town.

The mama bear and her light-colored cub wait along the side of the road near Black Lake. ThomasPickerel.com

Tyrsten Burnham uses one of the new bear-proof Dumpster lids at 7th Pasture Ballpark. Jeff Brady

Leggett said his department had been working with Public Works to enforce the municipal ordinance that prohibits humans from tempting bears with their garbage. Whenever Public Works spots a garbage situation that might attract bears, Leggett issues a warning. If it happens again, they get a citation. And if they’re feeding bears or purposefully leaving food out, they get a citation on that first offense.
“We’re trying to deal with it pretty aggressively,” he said.
The Bear Safe Community Action Network, which formed this spring, is also trying to prevent humans from letting a problem develop again.
B-SCAT member Shelby Surdyk said she hoped their efforts would prevent the need to ever move the bears.
“If Skagway becomes bear-safe…those negative bear-human problems and need to potentially relocate bears will be eliminated,” she said.
One of B-SCAT’s goals is trying to get every garbage can and Dumpster fitted with a bear-resistant lid by April 2010, said member Jan Wrentmore.
So far, just a small portion of the town’s garbage receptacles have those lids.
The municipality has been helping with that goal. The assembly put $30,000 into the budget last year, and has another $60,000 slated for next year’s budget.
Ten Dumpsters were recently fitted with their bear-resistant lids, said Public Works Director Grant Lawson at a Public Safety Committee meeting. Lawson said lids for ten more Dumpsters had been ordered.
Those lids are now in use at some park service buildings, Seven Pastures and other locations around town. Surdyk said the school and other public facilities were next on the list for getting new lids.
The municipality’s funding alone won’t cover the cost of all the new lids. BSCAT member Dave Schirokauer said the cost for new lids and containers for all of Skagway is between about $180,00 and $200,000. He’s working with the Skagway Traditional Council on a Fish and Wildlife Grant that would help fund more cans and lids. The grant would be for the next federal fiscal year, so if they receive the money, it’d be a winter or spring project.
In addition to the Dumpsters, some residential garbage cans have been replaced. Last summer, the Skagway Hardware Store ordered more than 20 bear-resistant tipper carts, Schirokauer said. The municipality, Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, and individual Skagwegians are now using those carts around town.
BSCAT is also working on public outreach. Some of their members helped create a brochure that the police department now distributes, and the group helped get a Fish and Game public safety announcement about bears played on KHNS, said Schirokauer. The PSAs are read by Sarah Palin and other famous Alaskans, and play twice-daily on KHNS.

Lines have been a daily fixture at the post office, in part because a postal service hiring freeze has delayed getting summer help. Molly Dischner

Postal employees may have relief


Lines at the Skagway Post Office should be a little bit shorter in July, but the relief may just be temporary.
Postmaster Elaine Brummett said they would be hiring another employee later in the month.
“We have been authorized to hire someone right now through the end of July,” she said.
Brummett said she received authorization to hire another employee on June 2, but the person will probably only work for a month. The position is a temporary one, and must be posted for 20 days before she can hire someone, she said. Before the new employee can sort any mail, Brummett has to get her choice approved – a process that includes a background check and medical assessment. Brummett said she was trying to get permission to extend the position through the end of September. She wasn’t sure if she could speed up the hiring process.
Despite the delay, Brummet said it would be a relief to have help. Brummett and two other employees have been handling all the mail this season.
Brummett said they’d been doing a magnificent job with just the three of them, but they weren’t quite caught up.
“We’re trying to get everyone’s mail out in the same day that it comes in,” she said.
Those three employees are Skagway’s regular postal force – a postal service hiring freeze stopped them from hiring the usual seasonal employees that keep summer service running smoothly with the increased tourist traffic.
Applications for the temporary job are on the United States Postal Services website. Brummett can answer any questions about the position.

Granite rockfall halts trains for 1.5 days

Fallen rocks prevented White Pass and Yukon Route trains from traveling for a day and a half late last month
Large chunks of granite fell onto the tracks at mile 16.2 on May 27. A train headed for Fraser Lake came across the obstacles on the tracks as it started off the afternoon tours, and the remainder of the day’s service was cancelled.
WP&YR President Gary Danielson said the fallen rocks were bigger than a typical slide. One was 20 feet high and 10 feet wide.
“All five afternoon trains had to back into Skagway,” said Danielson.
Danielson said blasting to remove the granite started the same afternoon and clean-up was finished by 5 p.m. the next day. No trains ran for a day and a half while the granite was cleared off, and service resumed as usual on May 29. WP&YR was lucky not to have any trains or people injured when the rocks fell, he said.
The season’s biggest obstacle is still preventing service between Fraser and Bennett. Repairs to the washed-out section at Mile 37 began at the end of May. Danielson said they would be completed in mid- to late July.
In the meantime, buses are providing service from Carcross to Fraser, and a round-trip train is running between Carcross and Bennett to accommodate Holland America-Princess and independent travelers. – MD


Property values increase, some owners dismayed; assembly makes two adjustments

The Skagway Municipal Assembly met May 27 as the Board of Equalization and heard 15 appeals over the recent property-value assessments conducted by Horan and Company.
The board changed nine values, but left the other six untouched. Hillside residents Mark Saldi and Dave Herbig were the only appellants present to defend their cases.
Saldi appealed the values of both of his parcels. The board voted 5-1 to lower the value of his hillside cabins from $51,371 each to $25,000 each, but left his land and home values the same. Assemblyman Dan Henry voted against the motion after stating his general disagreement with the assessments. Saldi originally said his cabins were worth $15,000 each, as he had built them himself and hadn’t spent very much on their construction.
Saldi said the values assigned to his property were unfair, and that the replacement value listed significantly exceeded the cost to build it. The cabins were not listed in his prior assessments, although they had been built in 2002.
Mayor Tom Cochran said he sympathized that the listed replacement cost wasn’t the cost to build, but that’s what the system looks at, and the municipality was bound to go by that.
Assessor Bill Ferguson’s recommendation was to lower the total value of the cabins from $102,700 to $87,700, and the value of the house from $354,700 to $330,700. That total drop in value was about $39,000. The assembly lowered his value by about $52,700.
The assembly also voted 5-1, again with Henry voting no, to lower the value on Herbig’s home from 315,100 to 246,000. That devaluation was based on Herbig’s statements that some parts of the assement mis-represented his house. He said that he had monitors not central heat, the garage apartment was just one storage room, and mentioned other inaccuracies.
Herbig appealed the value of his house, which assessor Ferguson suggested dropping to 258,800, but Herbig wanted to see a lower value on the house. Henry said that Herbig and Saldi’s land was valued the same, but Saldi’s land was much more difficult to build on, and the less appealing piece of property. Knowing that about the two made him wonder what other disparities were in the assessments, Henry said.
Assessor Charles Horan also asked the assembly to devalue seven properties between 19th and 21st and State and Main by 10 percent each because of a creek that runs through them in an undesirable path. Kathy Hosford originally approached Horan about her property, but she missed the appeal deadline. After Horan looked at her property, he realized that a devaluation for all of the properties affected by that creek would be appropriate. Those changes passed with a 6-0 vote.
There were six other appeals, but none of those appellants showed up to defend their appeal. Horan did not recommend changes to any of those values, and the board voted to leave the values as they were.
The assessments resulted in increased property values for most of Skagway. Cochran said the assembly would look at adjusting the mill rates accordingly so that the increased values did not overtax people. Third reading of the budget will be at a special meeting next Tuesday, June 16 at 5:30 p.m.
Aside from the appeals discussed at the Board of Equalization hearing, 23 individuals and companies originally contacted Horan with an appeal, but were able to work out their issues without the board’s help.
The assembly also discussed how the assessments reflected the current market. Horan explained that the numbers used were from before January 2009, and as an assessor, he could not speculate on the market without numbers to back up what he was doing.
“This is not perfect,” he said. “This is a mixture of science and art.”
Horan said the project was a new experience for his firm. Skagway is now the first municipality he’s worked with to have a fully electronic roll. While it was an exciting project, he noted that it had gone over budget. He attributed that to the more than 100 hours spent working through appeals, as well as the municipality’s lack of maps. – MD

Lisa Hollander talks with visitors at 2nd and Broadway during her first day as the new ‘Skagway Ambassador.’ She was the only person who applied for the contract. - Molly Dischner

Volunteer fire chief proposed
Members of the Skagway Fire Department discussed their preference for a new chief with Manager Tom Smith and Assemblyman Mark Schaefer at a June 10 Public Safety Committee Meeting.
Interim chief Wayne Greenstreet said the department voted for a volunteer chief on June 2. Under the volunteer chief plan, the department would have two paid positions, and offer a stipend to the chief and an after-hours duty officer.
Greenstreet said the firefighters also wanted a board of directors to oversee the chief. The proposed board would include the fire captain, EMS captain, and SAR captain, and one volunteer from each field. That board was important regardless of whether the new chief is paid or a volunteer, he said.
Greenstreet also brought up the possibility of applying for a grant for a new public safety building. Smith said he would work on that with Greenstreet, and get it on the agenda for assembly approval at the next meeting. Interim fire chief Wayne Greenstreet or another representative will present their proposal for a volunteer chief to the assembly on June 18. – MD


LEAD WALK DOG – A dog leads a group of Skagway girls up a hill during the annual Fran Delisle Cancer Awareness Walk. See story and more photos in Features below. Molly Dischner

• CANCER WALK 2009: Fran Deslisle Cancer Awareness event raises $16,000

• OBITUARIES: Ivadell Rapuzzi, Felecia Braun, Ramond Carder

• HEARD ON THE WIND: Buses bump in the rain, other mysterious phenomena...


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