SMOKE ON THE WATER

Boats proide assistance as a scrap barge burns last Sunday afternoon, in plain view of the town of Haines, where Wayne Selmer snapped this photo. See story in headlines below. Wayne Selmer

Changing of the guard

Police Chief Spurrier retires, wants more positive feedback for department

By JEFF BRADY
Police Chief Dennis Spurrier “retires” at the end of June, having served off-and-on for the Skagway Police Department for 27 years. “Retirement, I’ve been looking at that word (on the calendar) for months,” he said. His last day will be June 30.
But he’ll be jobless for only a couple of weeks - “that’s about as long as my wife can stand having me around the house” – before returning to a post at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection port of entry.
Spurrier came to Skagway as an officer in a three-man department under former chief Jim Hester in the winter of 1978. He has been an officer twice and a chief twice. In between SPD stints, he worked as a Customs officer and DOT operator.
Since returning to the police chief position in 2000, he has
supervised up to 11 personnel: four full-time and two seasonal police officers, two full-time and one summer dispatcher, and one full-time and a seasonal clerk.
In addition to the staffing changes, the department has received numerous grants related to homeland security, nearly $500,000 since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. For example, department personnel now have night vision capability to maintain security at facilities and locations regardless of the time of day or night.

DENNIS SPURRIER

They also have memorandums of understanding with the Haines department, National Park Service, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for help in major incidents. They will be working with the Fire Department on boarding vessels after the SFD receives a new boat, courtesy of a federal grant.
“We help them, and they help us,” Spurrier said of the agency cooperation.
The chief and officers have also received additional training since 9/11, from emergency management and dealing with explosives to using taser guns.
All officers are now equipped with the tasers, which stun a suspect. As part of their training with Alaska State Troopers, Spurrier said, each local officer had to endure a one second zap to know what it feels like. The tasers are common in airports and the sight of them being drawn makes many criminals stop in their tracks, Spurrier said.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had to use them yet,” he said. “But they are the best way to go for a less than lethal confrontation.”
Overall, homeland security issues have changed the focus of the department, he said, but serving the people of Skagway is the top priority.
Spurrier was able to convince City Council to keep the seasonal dispatcher and clerk positions in the budget and avoid gaps in the 911 response system.
One additional position he would like to see is a part-time dog catcher and he spoke in support of a request by Paws and Claws at a recent meeting. Officers are too busy in the summer to deal with dog complaints unless they are dog bites, he said.
Spurrier is on the committee for hiring the next chief and says communication is the key for being successful in his job.
“One of the most important parts of the job is being able to communicate with community members, get to know them, establish a rapport and get to know people on a first name basis,” he said. “That’s half the battle, then just keeping your employees focused on our mission,” he said.
Police work isn’t what one sees on TV shows like CSI, Spurrier added. Crimes aren’t solved in an hour, for one thing. “I enjoy watching CSI but it doesn’t work that fast in the real world,” he said.
Even with major cases in Skagway, by the time evidence is gathered, packaged, shipped off to the crime lab in Anchorage, and the results come back, “it may take a month or two,” he said.
Spurrier says the department is used to hearing criticism, and he deals with that, but he wishes more people would call the chief, city manager and council members when the officers do positive things.
“My largest concern as chief has been the lack of positive response officers and members of the department get from the public,” he said, adding that the problem has affected employee morale.
“People don’t take time to mention the positive things ... I would encourage, in the future, for people to say the good and the bad, we’d like to hear both,” he said.
Spurrier said he hopes the new chief will be an asset and bring positive change to the department and community, “to continue to make Skagway a safe place to live.”

Chief search down to two
The police chief hiring committee met Monday and narrowed down its list of four candidates to two.
Ray Leggett, an administrative lieutenant with the Denton, Texas department, was recently added to the finalist list and made the top two, said City Manager Bob Ward. Leggett will be brought up to Skagway with William Frank McLendon III of Kansas, a former chief of the Sitka Police Department.
Ward said Leggett has no Alaska experience but interviewed well on the phone. He has experience as a SWAT and dive team commander, hostage negotiator with a child response unit, and has done a lot of work with the academy there and a citizens’ academy. He also is a graduate of the FBI academy. “He has a long background though has never been a chief before.” Ward said.
McLendon, 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 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.
Ward was doing further background checks and working on travel arrangements for the pair this week. He hopes to bring them up as soon as possible to interview with the committee and meet the department and city officials. They may not be able to be here at the same time, so he does not know if there will be a public reception, Ward said Tuesday. – JB

Barge fires smokes out Skagway

Local tugs assist firefighting, extreme heat continues

By GREY HUDDLESTON
A large fire aboard the barge W.J. Carbon delayed local marine traffic and flooded the Skagway area and upper Lynn Canal with heavy smoke June 20.
The fire erupted around 2 p.m. and burned throughout most of the night, said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Roger Wetherell. No injuries were reported, but the Coast Guard was concerned that the smoke released could be toxic, said Wetherell.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the Coast Guard has launched an investigation into the incident.
The barge, owned by Washington-based Puget Sound Freight Lines, was carrying a load of scrap vehicles behind the tug Lumberman in the Chilkat Inlet just south of Haines.
The Coast Guard cutter Anacapa, based out of Petersburg, arrived on the scene about an hour after the blaze was reported. Crew members used hoses and pumps to shoot sea water onto the burning vessel, said Wetherell.
The Skagway tugs Le Cheval Rouge and Ethan B., as well as the Haines Volunteer Fire Department and a TEMSCO helicopter from Juneau also assisted in firefighting efforts.
Tim Roseberg, captain of the Ethan B., said his tug helped position the barge and the Lumberman while Le Cheval Rouge used hoses to attack the fire.
“Basically we tried to keep the barge positioned into the wind to keep smoke off the folks fighting the fire,” Roseberg said.
The Haines Volunteer Fire Department sent nine volunteers to the scene after being contacted by the Coast Guard, said Haines Fire Chief Scott Bradford.
The volunteers were transported to the barge by a local fishing vessel and the catamaran Fairweather Express. They fought the fire until dismissed by the Coast Guard at 10:45 p.m, Bradford said.
“We were pretty much pumping water the whole time,” said Bradford.
Bradford said the blaze was extinguished by morning except for light smoke and hot spots. Roseberg said “It’s a very tough fire to put out because it’s under all that metal, burning from the inside out.”
The Coast Guard remained on the scene June 21 to enforce a 500-yard safety zone around the stricken barge.
“Until it’s completely extinguished, there’s always a danger,” said Wetherell.
Bradford said the barge would dock in Haines the afternoon of June 21 for unloading and damage investigation.
The safety zone around the burning barge caused several delays to marine traffic in the area. The ferries Taku and Matanuska were both late arriving to Haines after being diverted to the fire scene, and two cruise ships, the Seven Seas Mariner and the Carnival Spirit, remained in Skagway later than planned as a result of the fire.

A burn ban continues throughout Southeast Alaska and the Yukon during the hot, dry weather.

Amended city budget passes with more cuts

Mill rate reduced to 8.78 in service area 1

By GREY HUDDLESTON
City Council passed the budget for fiscal year 2005 at a special meeting June 10 after making a series of cuts.
The approved $3,308,809 general fund budget contains a nine percent reduction in the mill rate from the June 3 version of the budget: from 9.65 to 8.78 in Service Area I and similarly proportioned reductions in the other service areas.
This reduction in the mill rate was achieved through cuts approved by the Council at meetings held June 10 and June 3. The June 3 reductions include a 20 percent across-the-board cut in travel and training as well as the elimination of proposed funding for a Skagway Chamber of Commerce office and manager.
The cuts approved June 10 included $40,000 removed from the engineering budget, $20,000 removed from the recreation center budget, the deletion of funds for a new sprinkler system for the fire department, and smaller cuts to the trail maintenance and school water heater funds.
Council also approved a two percent overall reduction in the general fund budget for a total savings of $67,920. Specific cuts were made at the discretion of individual departments.
City Manager Bob Ward said in a letter to the mayor and council that the two percent cut would result in less police coverage, some reduction in library hours, neglected maintenance, fewer classes at the rec. center, less training, and postponing upgrades to obselete computer equipment.
An appropriation of $15,000 from Tongass National Forest receipts to pay for a state-mandated rewrite of the city’s coastal management plan was also approved. “We have a legal requirement to finish the ACMP,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy.
Council voted down other cuts proposed by Bourcy. The mayor tried to get the four-step increase in the budget for city employees cut to three steps, but was defeated. Council also decided not to cut a 911 dispatcher position which would have reduced the time the city has a live dispatcher from 12 to eight hours a day during the winter.
Council member Jay Frey moved to delete the city’s $58,000 worth of funding for the Skagway Development Corporation, but the motion was defeated. Frey said the SDC had originally planned to be self-sufficient after only a year of city funding rather than three. “In the future, there’s got to be a line drawn,” he said.

Railroad sets new daily ridership record
The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad announced that it carried 6,251 passengers on June 16, shattering last year’s daily record of 5,384.
This is the second time this season that last year’s record was broken.
“This new daily ridership record has been set early in our season, which reflects the strength of the rebound in the tourism industry and the desirability of the White Pass as a destination activity,” said WP&YR President Gary Danielson in a press release.
“We’re having a record year so far and that’s a testament to our people, infrastructure and marketing. The teamwork required to deliver a safe, quality experience and orchestrate the logistics while working at capacity is amazing – and our team manages to have fun doing it. I’m very proud of them,” Danielson said.
White Pass invested in eight new passenger coaches this year and has historic Engine No. 69, a 1907 steam locomotive, being restored for a return to charter service in 2005.
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 railroad is Alaska’a most popular shore excursion, carrying almost 350,000 passengers in 2003.
White Pass & Yukon Route is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tri-White Corporation based in Toronto, Ontario. The Tri-White Corporation is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange as TWH.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

REASON TO SMILE – The "Skagway Siblings," John and Kathleen O'Daniel, pose before the start of Wednesday's Yukon River Quest in Whitehorse. Their trianing this month was interrupted when Kathy had to go into the hospital for a lumpectomy. Then, two days before the race, she received word that her biopsy turned up benign. With a "Black and Decker sports bra," she planst o keep up with brother John, who is paddling in his third straight race. "We're celebrating!" they said. A record 51 teams began the event which can be followed at www.yukonriverquest.com. JB

OTHER STORIES FEATURED THIS ISSUE

• HEARD ON THE WIND: Rhubarb growing fins and more!

• SPORTS FEATURE: On the road with Skagway teams in the Kluane to Chilkat International Bike Relay - RESULTS!

• PHOTO PAGE: Cancer Awareness Walk raises $18,000

•INTERVIEW: Jack Williams of RCCL pays Skagway a visit

• ARTS & EVENTS: Weekend schedule for Fourth of July

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