LIGHTING UP THE HARBOR

Bursts from two fireworks displays and lights from the cruise ship Zuiderdam brighten the bay as the clock strikes midnight on July 4, ushering in another great Independence Day celebration in Skagway. See more of our farovite photos in Features below, and many more photos on pages 5, 6, and 7 of the newspaper.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

‘Rainy day fund’ used to bring back school music program

By CASEY DEAN and JEFF BRADY
At its final meeting, the Skagway City Council on June 22 approved using $75,000 from the Tongass Timber Receipts Fund to reinstate the Skagway School music program.
Superintendent Michael Dickens informed the council that since music had been cut three years ago due to a reduction in force, he has endeavored to provide clubs and after-school programs, but participation has declined. However, there remains strong interest in having a music program within the school day.
With expected enrollment declines and consequent cuts to the budget, Dickens said that without the timber money another teaching position would have to be cut in order to provide a music program next school year.
He added that the timeline for approving funding from the timber receipts was pressing. Because he had intended all along to ask for city funding, Dickens and the school board completed the interview process for a music teacher. If the issue were to be tabled until July 5 when the new borough assembly was sworn in, Dickens said he believed the top candidate would take a position with a different school.
Councilmember Dave Hunz said he was opposed to funding the music program from the timber receipts. He said the city funded the school up to the cap in this year’s budget and the school received additional funding from the state.
“To keep coming back after the budget has been set is a bunch of B.S.,” he said, adding the school can cut other programs if necessary.
Councilmember Mike Korsmo said during the budget adoption process the council had decided to return to the issue of taking money from the timber receipts and that the timing was not neglect on anyone’s part.
“We’ve got the money. I think we should support it,” he said of the music program.
In fact, it was Hunz who originally suggested putting half of this year’s timber receipts ($158,000) toward the school budget, but he did not specify a program. The school district saw this as an opportunity to ask to use the $75,000 for music and drafted a resolution.
Councilmember and mayor-elect Tom Cochran said the community has been without a music program for too long, but asked Dickens if he intended to return next year to ask for more money.
“You gotta face reality ... that’s what’s going to happen,” Hunz said.
Dickens said he anticipates more state funding with the pending adjustment to school budget formulas, but the district is concerned about a drop in enrollment after a large senior class graduates next year.
With one ‘no’ vote from Hunz, the council approved taking $75,000 from the Timber Receipts Fund for the music program.
Two nights earlier at its final regular meeting, the Skagway City School Board passed a resolution in support of reinstating the music program and tentatively hired an instructor.
The district had been legally bound for three years to hold off on hiring a new music teacher.
The resolution said the district is now “legally able to reinstate the music program without having to offer the music teacher position to the previous, tenured teacher,” and had the support of faculty, parents and community.
Dickens also noted that the district had permission from the state Department of Education finance office to fund the music position from timber receipts, over and above what the state gives as part of the school foundation formula and what the community is allowed to give up to a cap level.
“Let’s get it out on the (council) table and if it doesn’t happen, so be it,” said School Board President Chris Ellis. “If enrollment goes up to 102, it could change.”
Other board members were worried they could lose a good teacher candidate. Dickens said he had advertised the position “pending funding” and had received 14 applications. He had tentatively offered the job to David LeCompte, a K-12 music and special education instructor from New Jersey. LeCompte had come to Skagway on a cruise in May and toured the school. He had read at the time about the board’s wish to reinstate the program, and its troubles finding money to do it.
“He’s personable and talented,” Dickens said, but added that LeCompte also had an offer from the Juneau district.
The board approved the tentative hiring, pending the city council decision.
After the city council meeting, Dickens called LeCompte, and he accepted the Skagway position.

Senator Lisa Murkowski turns 50 on the Chilkoot Trail

By CASEY DEAN
Senator Lisa Murkowski fueled up on cookies, coffee and conversation about a range of issues with Skagway residents before starting up the Chilkoot Trail last weekend.
The senator spent Saturday afternoon in Council Chambers chatting up the Skagway City Council and about 20 community members, then joined family and friends at the head of the trail for a hike in celebration of her 50th birthday.
As she made her rounds through the crowd, talking to everyone who was in attendance, Murkowski came across several issues more than once, including energy, the marine highway system, education and fisheries.
Energy, the cost thereof, and alternative means of providing it was a hot topic.
“We have enormous potential with renewable fuels,” Murkowski said, listing interties, lake hydro, geothermal, ocean and wind energy.
“Think about what you could do here in Skagway with wind,” she said.
Murkowski is currently working to advance funding opportunities through the Renewable Energy Construction Fund.
“I think Alaska can take the lead on this just as we have taken the lead on fossilized fuels,” she said.
The Alaska Marine Highway System also came up with discussion of problems unique to Alaska.
“The biggest problem is trying to educate colleagues on the issues,” Murkowski said. She urged her constituents to help explain Alaskan issues to legislators.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, fourth from right in the back row, poses with her entourage in Dyea before setting off on the Chilkoot Trail last weekend. Casey Dean

In an effort to alleviate one such concern, Murkowski has proposed an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act to benefit rural schools. She hopes to monitor individual student progress and increase flexibility in the qualifications of teachers.
“We have to be able to provide for a level of flexibility for those who are teaching (multiple subjects) in rural schools,” she said.
Murkowski also engaged in dialogue about the potential for economic development in Skagway through fisheries. Flying salmon and other fresh fish products into Europe from Whitehorse, Yukon “opens up a very significant market for us in fisheries,” she said.
Murkowski also swapped tales about the Chilkoot Trail, which she had tackled twice before – once in high school and once in college with a roommate. She said the first experience was pleasant, but the second was not. With a ferry waiting to take them back to school in Oregon and only one night to spend on the trail, the two college students broke in stiff boots, new jeans and inefficient rain gear hiking the trail backwards from Bennett to Dyea, only to remember at the end of the trail that they were still about 10 miles from Skagway’s ferry terminal.
Approaching her third experience on the Chilkoot, Murkowski said she would not have to flag down a ride back to town, and she allotted a bit more time to enjoy the adventure. She added that this time she also had a strong son who she said would be “able to handle a good deal of extra weight from his mother’s pack.”
Though Murkowski is now a seasoned Chilkoot hiker, her husband was new to the trail, and the other 13 members of the posse were not hikers. The senator said they were all excited about the trip, however.
“We’ll see at the end of this trip if they’re still thanking me,” she said before they started up the trail.
Murkowski, her husband and two sons and the three other families from Anchorage rolled back into Skagway on the train July 4 to partake in the Independence Day festivities.

Governor Palin cuts $600,000 in local projects

By CASEY DEAN
Of the nearly quarter of a billion dollars of line-item vetoes Governor Sarah Palin made to the budget last week, $600,000 came out of what the Alaska Legislature approved for Skagway projects.
Palin signed Senate Bill 53, the state capital budget, into law June 29.
The Booster Station and Well project was allotted for $450,000, but Palin vetoed it, citing the availability of other funding options.
The pedestrian bridge over West Creek is not the responsibility of the state, according to the list of vetoes released by the governor’s office. The city will not receive $150,000 in state funding for that project.
The signed budget does include $5,000 for Skagway school books and supplies, $100,000 for the 20th Avenue Dike Repair Project, and $43,000 for the Pullen Creek Restoration project.
Of the $748,000 approved for Skagway by the Legislature, the community will now receive just $148,000 in state funding.

New passport rules at U.S. border suspended, for now

By CASEY DEAN
U.S. citizens who haven’t received a passport yet can still make summer travel plans in the Western Hemisphere, as long as they have submitted an application.
June 8, the federal government announced a temporary suspension of the first phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which required travelers to present a valid passport when flying between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Bermuda.
The suspension will permit U.S. citizens to travel by air to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda without a passport until September 30. Travelers will instead be required to show government-issued photo identification and proof that they have applied for a passport. Proof of application can be obtained at http://travel.state.gov. It takes seven to 10 days to acquire a proof of application online, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
The temporary rules suspension comes in response to passport acceptance facilities being overwhelmed since the requirements went into effect Jan. 23, according to government statements.
“Due to longer than expected processing times for passport applications in the face of record-breaking demand, the federal government is making an accommodation for air travel,” said a statement from the Department of State.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the decision to suspend the rule comes “in response to pressure from Congress and in recognition of their own failure within the department to meet the demand.” Murkowski played a role in this rule suspension, noting communities like Skagway have come to count on the openness of borders with Canadian neighbors.
During a visit here last week, Murkowski said the Department of State did not anticipate the large response of U.S. citizens to WHTI and was unprepared for the sharp increase in applications.
“November, traditionally our slowest month, was one of our busiest, presumably because travelers were applying for passports in anticipation of the new rules,” Steven Royster, Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs press officer, wrote in an e-mail.
Murkowski said it now takes three to four months to acquire a passport.
“The problem is, they’re not telling people ... that in fact these delays are out there,” she said.
Skagway Magistrate Susan Reed said even expedited applications, which cost an extra $60, now require up to six weeks.
Murkowski continues to urge the public to get passports; Reed reminds travelers to make an appointment to have a passport application processed in the courthouse and to bring a certified copy of their birth certificate, two color passport photos, the filled-out application, a check or money order for $67 to the U.S. Department of State, a check or money order for $30 to the State of Alaska and a government-issued picture ID.
Reed said she has handled 39 passport applications already this year, and last year the court saw 115. In 2005, 76 passports passed through the court.
“Last year my numbers were the highest that I had seen and also the highest that this court had seen, I think,” she said.
Royster said 33,119 passports have been issued to Alaskans since October 2006.
The second phase of the WHTI, which applies to land and sea travel, could go into effect as early as Jan. 31, 2008. It will require all U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda by land or sea to present a U.S. passport. The House of Representatives recently approved wording in the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill that pushes that back to Jan. 31,2009. Steven Sweeny in Murkowski’s office said they are working on the bill’s passage in the Senate now.

CITY: New clinic design avoids creek
The Skagway Clinic Board held a public presentation Thursday, June 21, to update Skagway on the Dahl Memorial Clinic project.
Tom Livingston, of Livingston Slone, Inc. presented the most recent schematic design, which circumvents previous issues with the creek running through the property.
By working around Pullen Creek on the most recent design, the city will save in excess of $200,000, said Clinic Board President John Warder.
“It’s a tight site,” Livingston said. “The creek took a big bite, but I think we used every inch of usable space.”
The cost for construction only is estimated at $7.5 million, he said.
Warder said he is pleased the design has come to avoid the creek.
“I love it. It’s changed a lot,” Warder said. “It’s much simpler.”
The floor plan includes a dental area, behavioral health portion, urgent care zone with three operating rooms and an ambulance sally port, a conference room, break or overnight on-call room for providers, body storage and viewing space and nine exam rooms.
Board member Laura Moscatello pointed out that a three-to-one exam room to provider ratio is conventional in community health centers. Livingston added it optimizes efficiency and revenue.
The design also includes approximately 35 heating zones that can be adjusted independently, which will enable fuel and electric savings during the winter when demand for health services declines.
The project should be ready to go to bid February 4, 2008, Livingston said. He anticipates construction to take a year, and two more estimates will be made before February regarding total cost.
“I expect a spring 2009 completion,” Livingston said. Livingston updated the Skagway City Council during it’s regular meeting Thursday as well.
“I like where it’s going.” Mayor Tim Bourcy said. “It’s certainly improving.”
- CD

Longer pay scale sunset for employees
City Manager Alan Sorum explained to the Skagway City Council June 22 the pay scale sunset date, the step increase and the addition of the new tax clerk position.
He said the pay scale sunset date needed to be extended, which was feasible because the temporary pay scale has been included in the city budget.
Council approved the new resolution, which sets the sunset date of the city pay scale increases after the pay scale study is completed and the council approves reclassification of the pay scale. City employees do not face a pay scale decrease.
There will be no pay step increase starting July 1; instead, employees will remain at salaries established by the previous pay scale increase earlier this year. The resolution also included the creation of a tax clerk position, which the council had discussed in the budget adoption process.
After the timeline and resolution had been thoroughly reviewed by the council and Sorum, outgoing Mayor Tim Bourcy said, “I would get on my soapbox on how all this is working out ... but my stress level is really low right now.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

BRUIN IN THE BRUSH – A grizzly bear lurks from the beach grass on the Dyea Flats last month. Keep your distance from all bears and use a very long lens like the Yukon photographer who took this shot. Photo by Harry Kern

• SKAGWAY AIR FINALE: Photos of the "Final Rinse" for SAS plane 698 on June 30, 2007

• FOURTH OF JULY FAVORITES: Favorite photos from our 3 photographers

• SPORTS & REC: Photos from Elks Solstice Picnic, Little League vs. Haines, and the International Softball Tournament

HEARD ON THE WIND: Some people just want to create an international incident (July 6, 2007)

• OBITUARIES: Margaret Grisham and Tim Rahmn

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