BEAR TRACK BUDDIES

Two black bears, probably a mother and her yearling, munch on fireweed and other plants close to the WP&YR railroad tracks near Carcross last weekend. Our outdoors columnist caught more bears than fish for his lens. See more in Fish This! Andrew Cremata

Taiya Inlet Watershed Council rejuvenates Pullen Creek

Reduction of water speed improves salmon run

By EMILY A. PALM
Skagway Watershed Council recently broke ground along Pullen Creek in an effort to maintain natural habitat and promote healthy salmon runs. The construction has perplexed many a passerby, said Amber Bethe, former executive director of the council.
At first people barraged Bethe with questions, but as the construction continued, the semblance of a winding stream appeared. “It’s so much fun to see it all change,” she said.
The project’s principle purpose involves the reduction of water speed so younger salmon can more easily swim upstream. Lowering the velocity from seven feet per second to one foot per second has entailed two years of planning, and Bethe was clearly enthusiastic to see the project coming to life.
“I love this stuff,” said Bethe as she hopped from stone to stone in the water to check the placement of the boulders and logs. She said she enjoys the process of identifying problems and solving them.
The stretch of the river has been deemed, “the Congress Way reach of Pullen Creek.” Bethe noted the new moniker is a bit more professional than its previous reference as “that messed up part.” Either way, she noted that stakeholders identified it as a good site for restoration.
The organization’s goals for the construction are several-fold, said Bethe. Namely, improving fish passage and habitat, rejuvenating the aesthetics for the “people habitat,” and maintaining safety by the White Pass railroad tracks by providing an observation area away from the train tracks.
The process for design involved collaboration of stakeholders in the project including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department (USF&W), The City of Skagway, Westmark, and Alaska Power and Telephone (AP&T).
AP&T’s collaboration has been integral since the Dewey Lakes hydroelectric flow accommodates the flow, said Bethe.
The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad requested a clear line of vision to the stream from the tracks nearby. For this reason, the habitat will have trees further away from the stream with shorter bushes up close.
Various grants have propelled the project. USF&W contributed $180,000, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave $80,000, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation put forth $25,000 for the project.
The most expensive part of the project, said Bethe, was having Seattle-based Herrera Environmental consultants design the necessary changes for the stream.

Left, an overview of the project; right, H&H backhoe operator Eric Moseley positions tree stumps in the creek for as Amber Bethe measures. EAP

Bethe emphasized the importance of having a perfected plan for the reworking of the waterway. The completed blueprints she used appeared to be a picture of mishmashed logs and rocks to the untrained eye. In fact they represent a year and a half of design, collaboration and precise calculations.
Tourists stopped to watch the orchestration of the “woody debris clusters.” The clusters, which will create a cascading effect along the stream, involved back hoe operator Eric Moseley and Bethe moving logs, boulders and concrete blocks into the stream.
Moseley, who works for Hunz and Hunz Enterprisaes, and Bethe were confident of completion within a week. Trail work upstream of the current construction is next on the docket. It will involve more habitat reconstruction rather than changing the course of the stream, and thus be less intensive.
They will revamp the observation areas and provide informational plaques.
“This is a really amazing educational opportunity,” Bethe said, noting that along with showcasing information about local fish they can detail how the watershed council solved the problem of younger salmon struggling to swim upstream of a faster current.
This project is Bethe’s swan song, as she will move to Anchorage on Sunday to work as a habitat biologist for the ADF&G. The latter portion of the project will be in Dakota Hankin’s hands, who is taking over as TIWC’s new executive director.
Bethe was excited to begin working for the organization when it was a fledgling council two years ago. Not only did working for the organization allow the telemark skier to live in Skagway year-round, but she enjoyed taking part in projects that integrated local environmental issues with the needs of the community and economy.
With an emphasis on stewardship, Bethe made an effort for the organization to stay in touch with the many facets of the community. “We never wanted to be a group that just comes in and says, ‘do this, don’t do that,’” she said.
The Watershed Council does much work behind the scenes, Bethe said. This project helps demonstrate some of the organization’s efforts.
“I know I’m going to miss it here like crazy,” said Bethe. She was glad for Hankin to take over, particularly since Hankin has been a member of the Skagway community. Hankin previously worked as a local pre-school teacher and train guide.
Bethe said she hopes to continue her involvement with watershed councils, but on the other side of the table. Working with the ADF&G will enable her to support similar projects. “It’s very daunting to try and start an organization like this in a small town where you don’t have as many resources,” she said.
As she spoke of her upcoming departure, she waxed sentimental noting it was her “last Tuesday” here. Though she will miss the views, skiing, and Skagway community, Bethe looks forward to her new position and new challenges.

Boroughs will cost more
Judge rules city must pay most of its own attorney fees

The city received a ruling June 8 from Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins awarding just a small portion of the amount Skagway requested for reimbursement of attorney fees during the ongoing case against the Local Boundary Commission.
The LBC rejected Skagway’s petition to become a borough in 2002, but Collins ordered the case reopened in October 2005 after Skagway successfully challenged the LBC’s assertion that the city was too small.
Over the winter, the two parties traded supplemental briefs and a new hearing on the petition will be forthcoming in Skagway, possibly this summer. But the city had also pursued reimbursement of attorney fees, since the judge ruled in the city’s favor.
In her latest ruling, Judge Collins stated that since the City of Skagway controlled the petition and the appeal of the Commission’s decision, that, as a public entitity, it is not entitled to public interest litigant status.
Of the total $40,617 that the city spent, the judge ruled that only $8,123.40 in attorney fees on non-litigant issues such as preparing legislation, and $714. 97 for phone calls, could be awarded to the city.
“We get part of it but not the part we are trying to get,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy.
The bigger concern is what the decision will mean for other communities that try to take on the state and the LBC, he said. Most petitioners are cities representing people, and the decision may deter other from taking on the LBC, he said.
“It gives the LBC another club. Take you guys to court and see if you have the money,” he said.
One measure from Juneau in the city’s favor was the passage by the Legislature of HB 133 which says any area of the state that is up for annexation or borough incorporation must have the support of the voters in the affected area.
“It was signed by the governor and basically means there has to be a positive vote in all the affected communities,” Bourcy said. “The LBC objections to us forming should be a moot point, but we’ll keep fighting the fight.”
Skagway has strongly favored borough formation, citing its annexation of Dyea in the early 1980s, as making it big enough to be a borough, and, more importantly, preventing it from being included in the Haines Borough as part of the LBC-backed Model Borough Boundary plan approved years ago by the state. Skagway currently is a first class city in the unorganized borough. – JEFF BRADY

CITY: Substitute budget passes second reading

Skagway City Council at its June 15 meeting passed a substitute version of its “hold the line” budget, which saw a decrease since first reading from $3.71 million to $3.3 million and a reduction in the Service Area 1 mill rate from 8.91 to 8.48.
The mill rate is now lower that the 8.54 mills in the current fiscal year budget, but that didn’t stop long-time former Councilmember Ed Fairbanks from his annual attack on city spending.
Fairbanks said small towns like Skagway cannot afford what big towns have. In the past three to four years, he said, assessments have increased about 43 percent and his taxes have gone up 40 percent. He said he knew of three businesses on Broadway that won’t open their doors next spring, and that his profits from his grocery store were higher in 1985 than they are in 2005, while government salaries are up 12-30 percent.
There will be no one left if government isn’t controlled, he said.
City Manager Bob Ward explained that no employee was receiving a raise that high. All were based on 2.25 percent and his own is 5 percent, however there is more money in the budget for the position because Ward is retiring next February.
There is a new code enforcement officer position, recently filled by local resident Chris Grooms. Mayor Tim Bourcy added that the position used to be part-time in the fire department budget and is now part of the city hall budget.
Ward added that he believes the budget is “conservative and progressive” and that although the population of Skagway is 860, the city services about one million.
The substitute saw “hold the line” reductions in all departments, including the school district and the Skagway Development Corp., which had earlier requested increases. The SDC budget is now $85,000 compared to $80,000 last year. SDC had earlier requested $95,000. The school board cut $55,541 out of its budget to comply with the mayor’s request, and the city contribution will be around $900,000.
Payroll expenses have jumped an average of 30-40 percent to cover the city’s PERS liability. The other major increase is the city’s clinic contribution which jumped about 68 percent from $283,130 to $475,223. Revenue at the clinic was down about $100,000 than projected in this year’s budget, and medical costs continue to rise.
The third and final reading of the budget was held at a special meeting on Thursday, June 22 after this issue went to press.

SCHOOL: Staff vacancies filled; wellness affects school day

The Skagway City School Board filled the open technology and pre-school teaching positions at its regular meeting on June 14. The board’s hiring committee interviewed finalists earlier that day and brought forward its recommendations.
There were eight or nine applicants for the high school technology teaching position, which recently opened with the surprise resignation of long-time teacher Gary Trozzo.
The committee recommended Rob Torell, most recently of Boise, Idaho, who has a double masters degree in scientific education and technology education, said Superintendent Michael Dickens. He is a retired military officer with grown children, but he and his wife are active in foster parenting. They had been in Cordova for five years before heading to Idaho, but miss Alaska.
Dickens said he had excellent references. “He is enthusiastic and student centered,” Dickens said, “and has long term plans to stay here.”
As usual, finding housing is an issue, so if anyone can help, call the school at 983-2960.
The pre-school position recently vacated by Dakota Hankin is being filled by a familiar face around the school this past year: Dawn Weisel Vogel. She came up mid-year to be with her fiancee and now husband (as of last weekend), Steve Vogel, the PEP grant physical education teacher. She was the only applicant, Dickens said.
Josh Coughran will remain the activities director (the first to repeat in that role in four years), and Rick Hess the district technology coordinator. New contracts were also awarded to vocational education instructor Ryan Ackerman, special education coordinator Mary Jo Pike, business services manager Kathy Pierce, and administrative assistant Debbie Knorr.
English teacher Kent Fielding will be the new cross-country running coach, replacing Trozzo. Fielding was the running coach at Mt. Edgecumbe before he came here. He took the Braves to the state meet twice.
Dickens said the board received no applications for the boys basketball position, probably because they advertised too early. It will be advertised again in August.
The board adopted final reading of its new wellness policy while cutting out snack time during the school day.
This will put all kids in grade K-12 on the same clock, beginning the school day at 8:15 a.m. and leaving at 2:30 p.m.
Dickens said there also was an issue in the past with younger kids having to wait around for older siblings to get out before they could head home.
The school year calendar adopted at the meeting has school beginning for students on Thursday, Aug. 17 and ending on Thursday, May 18, 2007.
Dr. Dickens is now on summer holiday and the school board will not meet again until August. – JB

BUSINESS: WP&YR sets new daily ridership record; Wells Fargo celebrates Skagway bank's 90th anniversary

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad (WP&YR) announced that it carried 6,410 passengers on June 14, 2006 breaking the old daily record of 6,251 set on June 17, 2004.
“This record comes as a result of the total team effort needed to coordinate the movement of 11 trains and the thousands of passengers and have it completed safely and efficiently,” said Gary C. Danielson, President of the WP&YR. “With over 10,900 cruise ship passengers in Skagway on the record breaking day and several motorcoach groups arriving via the highway, it shows the continued strength of Alaska as a destination and the popularity of the White Pass as a destination activity.”
The White Pass & Yukon Route narrow gauge railway was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush and is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark – a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. The WP&YR is North America’s busiest tourist railroad, carrying over 430,000 passengers in 2005.

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Wells Fargo will commemorate their 90th anniversary in Skagway with a three-day celebration from July 5 through July 7. The public is welcome. They will have refreshments, entertainment, souvenir photos with the company’s Jack the Dog character, prize giveaways and a grand prize drawing.
“Our close connection with the community of Skagway and its rich history are vitally important to all of us at Wells Fargo,” said Richard Strutz, Wells Fargo Alaska regional president.
On March 20, 1916, Bank of Alaska opened in Skagway. Within months, Bank of Alaska opened offices in Wrangell and Anchorage, pioneering branch banking in Alaska.
In 1919, Edward Anton (E.A.) Rasmuson, the bank attorney, was named president of Bank of Alaska. The Rasmuson family guided the bank for more than 80 years as it grew to become Alaska’s largest financial institution, nationally chartered as National Bank of Alaska in 1950.
In July 2000, National Bank of Alaska merged with another financial services pioneer, Wells Fargo & Company.
“Our success in Skagway is the result of talented team members who are focused on serving our customers and the community,” Strutz said.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

GOING GOGGLES

Skip Elliott bears down on his leg during the 14th annual Kluane to Chilkat International Bike Relay. See more photos from the race in Features below. Thomas Pickerel

• SPORTS & REC.: Two Skagway entries in record field of 75 Yukon River Quest teams; New Upper Lake Cabin ready for users thanks to community effort

• PHOTO FEATURE: 'Interesting Times' on the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay to Haines

• FISH THIS!: Yukon ramblings by our outdoors columnist, Andrew 'Hammock Hook' Cremata

HEARD ON THE WIND: Questions, questions and so many answers......

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