Teri Potter is consoled by friend Chris Valentine outside her residence as Fire Chief Mark Kirko runs to the back of the house where flames are spreading from a pantry area to the kitchen. Skagway firefigheters put out this house fire and a hillside blaze in a 24-hour period. See story in headlines below Jeff Brady
State releases Juneau Access comment analysis
More support in writing for road route
By JEFF BRADY
A recently released analysis of comments on the states Juneau Access Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement showed more written support for the states preferred alternative, a road between Juneau and Skagway.
But state officials are stressing that it is not being viewed as a poll. Oral testimony favored marine alternatives.
A summary at the beginning of the 262-page report states that DOT&PF received a total of 1,373 written submissions during the public review period and oral testimony from a total of 227 individuals who attended the four public hearings held in Juneau, Haines, and Skagway (93 of the total). Of the 1,600 submissions or individual testimony, 23 were duplicates. Approximately 79 individuals sent in multiple submissions or submitted written comments in addition to oral testimony. There were also 32 joint submissions, with multiple signatures or multiple people listed in a single submission. Two State of Alaska Legislative Resolutions were also received; they were not evaluated as comments but will be referenced in the Final EIS.
A table breaks down the comments into areas of support for the preferred Alternative 2A (540), the no action alternative 1 (124), other eastside road alternatives 2A-C (54), west Lynn Canal road alternative 3 (32), and various ferry alternatives 4A-D (264).
When totalled, the number of commentors favored a road over ferry alternatives by a 917 to 664 margin, in contrast to oral testimony at public hearings in Skagway, Haines and Juneau which favored ferries.
The comments, which were distilled into one sentence summaries covering various categories throughout the report, can be downloaded off the Juneau Access link at the state DOT Website: www.state.dot.ak.us
Juneau Access Project Manager Reuben Yost said the states biggest focus has not been on how many supported an alternative, but what they said about the SDEIS.
From my perspective, the bigger issue is what areas people identified where there isnt sufficient analysis, where it is wrong, or where we didnt identify it at all, Yost said in an interview Tuesday. We hope to address all of those.
Yost said new DOT region director Al Menzies had been in Skagway recently to meet with Mayor Tim Bourcy, and the two had discussed the approach to town and other issues. The National Park Service also has requested visual simulations on what the hillside approach would look like with and without leaf cover on the trees. That will be included in the final EIS, he said.
During the February presentation of the SDEIS in Skagway, there was a mention that the project team could return to present more detailed drawings on the approach to town, particularly the on-and off-ramps at the north end after the proposed highway overpass crosses the railroad tracks. Yost said another visit may be possible.
Yost said the comment analysis is being built into the final EIS, which places the comments aside the purpose and need elements of the report in determining a final preferred alternative.
This is important, he concluded. People lose sight of the fact that the preferred alternative in the SDEIS is the states preferred alternative. All alternatives are considered equally, and the final EIS will identify Federal Highways (Administration) and Alaska DOTs preferred alternative.
Haines coach plans 92-mile protest swim
By CASEY GROVE
Plunging into the waters of Taiya Inlet from the Skagway docks is usually an accident, but Haines resident Steve Vick plans to jump in Aug. 1 as a way to protest the proposed Juneau Access road.
After hearing about possible changes to the ferry schedule in Lynn Canal, Vick started planning for the Lynn Swim, which is expected to take ten to 14 days. Vick opposes the road and hopes to draw more attention to the ongoing battle between what he sees as a majority of Southeast residents who want better ferry service and a state administration that seems focused on building a highway instead.
Its not democratic, he told the Chilkat Valley News. Theyre strong-arming us.
The 35-year-old club swim coach for the Haines Dolphins will attempt the 92-mile swim through Lynn Canal from Skagway to Haines and continue on to Juneau more than four times the length of a swim across the English Channel and much colder.
He will wear a triathalon wetsuit, a full hood over his head, gloves, neoprene swim socks and goggles. A 29-foot catamaran will lead the way, one kayaker will stay close to Vick, and another will scout ahead for potential problems in the water. Vick hopes to have another vessel to sleep and warm up in, but as of July 18, KHNS was still playing his listener personal announcement requesting such a boat.
Vick admits he has a fear of swimming in open water, but he said his training has helped overcome that fear. Swimming in the longest glacial fjord in North America, he will share the water with porpises, orcas, otters and plenty of other sea life.
Orcas are going to be a problem in some sense, Vick told the Juneau Empire. If I see them I should get out of the water. Theres never been a case of an orca attacking a human, but they do eat mammmals, and Im a mammal in a seal suit.
Unlike a seal, however, Vick often finishes his almost two-hour training runs in a hypothermic state.
Sixty percent of the time when I get out of the water, Im hypothermic, he told the Empire. On a cold day, it will take me an hour before I get warm. But hypothermia has many stages and usually Im in the middle, which means Im shivering. Ninety percent of all people have experience in mild hypothermia.
Calls to Vick this by the Skagway News for an update about his plans were not returned as of press time.
On July 31, the night before he sets out from Skagway, the Red Onion will host a Beach Night fundraising event for the Lynn Swim.
Housing a problem for incoming teachers
By CASEY GROVE
Two new teachers and their families will arrive in Skagway next month, and so far they have nowhere to live.
Its usually difficult because theyre coming in before the tour season is over, said School Board Secretary Debbie Knorr.
The schizophrenic ecomomy of Skagway makes finding a place to live a common problem, both for year-round residents like teachers and for seasonal workers who will stay only for a few months.
And relief is nowhere in sight.
The big spenders, namely jewelry stores, are buying apartment buildings for seasonal employee housing and shutting them down in the winter. A land transfer that is intended for use as residential property is still in the works between the City of Skagway and the State of Alaska.
In their regular mailout to parents at the end of June, the school district asked for information on any available housing. The announcement asks parents to call the school, and any information is being passed along to the new teachers, who are expected to be in town as soon as Aug. 1.
Its just word of mouth, newspaper, postings around town. Its been an ongoing thing for a while, Knorr said. Ive just been e-mailing them the info and just leaving it in their ballpark.
She said P.E. teacher Steven Vogel would need at least an apartment, and English teacher Kent Fielding would need something larger because he is bringing his wife and an infant.
As of presstime, neither teacher had returned e-mails from the Skagway News.
On occasion, the school district has helped find temporary housing for new teachers. We actually had a teacher come in the past who stayed in a tent, Knorr said.
The city is still working with the state on gaining title to city entitlement lands in and around Dyea to help ease the housing shortage. The city intends to sell the land as residential property, but the sale date is months away.
Its something that weve been working on since 1996, so its been a long time coming, Bourcy said. A land sale could happen as early as late this winter or early spring, Bourcy said, but that would be a best-case scenario. The land must be surveyed and subdivided before a sale can take place. All that takes a while as well, Bourcy said.
Were going to keep chipping away at it. Its definitely a high priority for me, Bourcy said.
The city is also working on developing property on the north side of town an entire block on 17th Avenue for use as moderate income housing.
We lose good people every year that would like to set roots in this community, Bourcy said. Hopefully thered be some units set aside for teachers or first-time homeowners.
A recent trend for moderate income housing units, and a major complaint of some Skagway residents, is that they are being bought up by large jewelry stores and unavailable for wintertime rental. Diamonds International purchased the Gold Rush Lodge for employee housing last summer, Little Switzerland is currently leasing the old Wind Valley Lodge, and Goodmark Jewelers recently bought a 10-unit apartment building from Smith & Higgins Rentals that they intend to shut down for the winter.
Howard Smith, the former owner, said he wanted to rent to year-round residents, but only about a third of his tenants stayed that long.
I had some local year-rounders, and some seasonals, and some seasonal workers who wanted to pay rent year-round just to keep it, said Smith, who owned the building for seven years. I always had more prospective tenants than available units.
Were planning to shut down the building in winter time, said Daryo Pardo, manager of Goodmark Jewelers, noting that one tenant would stay through the winter as according to an existing lease agreement. Pardo said Goodmark bought the building for use as seasonal employee housing.
Though Goodmarks employees have previously been provided with apartments to live in, seasonal workers at other businesses are not so lucky: Local campgrounds are full of seasonal workers spending the summer living in tents or RVs.
Theyve cramped us in like sardines here, said Jose Pomates, 22, who sleeps in a van at Skagway Mountain View RV Park. Pomates pays $338 a month to park his van, which reads Jose is dead on the side, and he is only allowed to have a few tarps in the surrounding trees for when it rains. Id rather be paying less rent for the accomodations that Ive been given, said Pomates.
Some opt to avoid the pay camping areas altogether, whether in tents hidden on the hillside or in RVs around town.
The illegal use of RVs outside of campgrounds was brought up by City Manager Bob Ward back in June. The issue was taken up by the Civic Affairs committee, and any changes still must be approved by City Council.
Council is currently working on the zoning changes, which would affect business and industrial zones, and would allow the owners to provide their employees with temporary RV housing for the summer.
Onlookers watch the columns of smoke rise from the hillside above 6th Ave. as Deputy Fire Chief Casey McBride radios a crew on the trail. Jeff BRady
Two fires in two days
By JENNIFER COLLINS
The Skagway Fire Dept. was able to contain two hot fires in a 24-hour span July 15-16 a house fire that threatened a neighborhood and a brush fire that scorched part of the hillside above town.
Black smoke and flames were observed coming from the back of the old Soldin home on 5th Ave. just two residences behind the Fire Dept. on the afternoon of Friday July 16.
The page went out at 3:17 p.m. and Fire Chief Mark Kirko was on scene a minute later, along with police officer Jason Joel. A quick search of the home indicated no one was inside, and a couple of fire engines arrived over the next 4-8 minutes.
The back of the house was fully involved before firefighters were able to get water on it. Kirko said their first priority was dousing some of the nearby structures to prevent the fire from spreading to other homes.
I was there with a garden hose on Inezs (Knorr, neighbor to east) woodpile next to the garage, Kirko said. As soon as we came in with hoses (from the fire truck), we wetted it down and then made an attack on the back door, leading to a pantry off the kitchen.
Kirko said they also tried to keep the fire from spreading to an out-building behind the Soldin home, but were only partially successful as the north wall of that smaller structure burned. A snowmobile and lawn mower by the rear of the main house also were destroyed.
By the time we had knocked it down, it had consumed all of the back pantry and three-quarters of the kitchen, and had just started to get into the living room, he said. There was not much to slow it down, a lot of highly combustive material.
A shut door did protect a bathroom just off the kitchen, he added.
Explosions that onlookers heard were probably aerosol cans, he said, and the black smoke was caused mainly by plastic used in the roof and sidewalls of the pantry area.
The fire was under control within 20-30 minutes, Kirko said. An ambulance stood by. Police Chief Ray Leggett and officers also assisted.
Overall it was a rather good response from our department during the time of day that it was, the chief added. A lot of our folks are tour people and on the train. Jeremy (Simmons trained firefighter) had just gotten off work, but we had two in there who had never been in a fire situation before.
It didnt progress any further once we got there. There was lots of stuff in the house.
Crews were pulled off the scene about 6:15 p.m.
The house has been in the Soldin-Knorr family since the 1930s and was rented to Teri Potter, who was working at the time of the call. Her daughter was playing softball in Whitehorse and the family dog was not inside.
Debbie Knorr, who owns the home with husband Keith, said an insurance investigator will be coming to town to assess the damage. Kirko said he has some theories about the cause but will make a determination later.
The home has a lot of history.
Mavis Irene (Soldin) Henricksen grew up there with her sister Inez. Henricksen said her family bought it in the early 1930s when it sat at its original location at 21st and Alaska, where AP&T now has a warehouse.
It was the last house before the bridge, Henricksen said. My earliest days, I remember being in that house. It had a basement then.
White Pass operated planes from an early airfield just south of there, and the planes barely missed their chimney on take-off, she said. White Pass bought the house from them, and later sold the building back to her parents, Hans and Mavis Soldin, who moved it to its current location about 1939. They rented it out but moved back in there in 1940, Henricksen said. Her dad constructed the out-building to the rear, which became known as Emmits Shack, a high school hang-out for her older brother and friends.
The hoses were barely dry from the house fire, when a call came in early Saturday afternoon. Smoke was seen coming from the hillside east of 6th Ave., above the old Pullen House property.
Witnesses Stuart Brown and Curt Dodd ran up the hill before firefighters arrived and said it appeared that some garbage had caught fire about 60 feet above the railroad tracks. It was later determined to have been a backpack, said Kirko, who was out of town at the time of the second fire.
The hillside fire was paged out at 12:28 p.m. and Deputy Fire Chief Casey McBride was on the scene directing crews a minute later. About 12:34 p.m. one engine responded to the railroad access road, where hose was laid under the tracks, and crews hauled hose up the hillside. Another engine at the east end of 6th Ave. pumped water from the hydrant there to the engine by the tracks.
By the time firefighters arrived, the brush fire, buffeted by a south wind, had raced in two columns up the hill about 100 to 110 feet, Kirko said later.It was 30-40 feet wide in some places.
Fortunately, a rock bluff halted the progress of the fire, said McBride at the scene. A 4-wheel ATV and a 6-wheel track vehicle offered by the Grieser family transported firefighters up the AP&T trail above the fire. The hose crew hauled about 200 feet of hose up the steep hillside.
Police closed the Lower Dewey Lake trail for about an hour, but a train was allowed to pass after crews got water to the hoses.
It was a pretty quick knockdown after that, said Kirko, calling it a typical ground cover fire, but with a potential to turn into a forest fire. As a precaution, the state forestry office in Haines and TEMSCO Helicopters were contacted to stand by in case the situation worsened. The local crews were called off the scene at 2:41 p.m.
Were not sure how it started, Kirko said.
Some personal belongings were in the backpack at the point of origin above the tracks. He is hoping that the owner of a commemorative belt buckle found there will come forward to claim it and give them some insight into how the fire started.
Police have started patrolling the Dewey Lake area to tell campers to put out fires. Kirko and his wife also left some buckets at campfire areas in the Yakutania Point and Smugglers Cove area recently, but they were vandalized the next day, he said. He put up some more.
Weve been trying to make it so people can enjoy themselves in the woods, Kirko said. ...but even with the rain weve had, conditions are not ideal yet (for campfires).
In other SFD news, Kirko said the fire at the Westmark Inn on the evening of July 3 was caused by rags that had been dried in a dryer and left on a shelf. Sometimes, when rags that use cooking oils are not changed out regularly, they can heat up when stacked and layered, resulting in spontaneous combustion, he said.
Kirko credited an operational sprinkler system with knocking out the fire in the laundry room.
Dyea Dave forced to change his run to the Chilkoot Trail
By JENNIFER COLLINS
Long-time Skagway tour guide Dyea Dave McClelland cut out a portion of his offerings after a taxi ordinance restricted his trips to the Chilkoot Trailhead - one of the central features of his business for the past 15 years.
McClelland is appealing to the city to reinstate the trips from Skagway to Dyea that he had to cut out, when some of the trips were deemed a taxi service unsanctioned by the city.
I still want to continue doing what Ive already done, he said, following a City Council meeting July 7, when he voiced his concerns.
The City Council passed an ordinance last month outlining taxi services in Skagway - an ordinance Dyea Dave was not included in.
Dyea Dave drives people to the Chilkoot Trailhead for $10 per person and hooks them up with train or bus rides back to Skagway. The problem comes when people find their own rides back to Skagway. His one-way trips to the Chilkoot Trailhead were deemed taxi services, and the police department asked him to stop.
Now the only way McClelland can drive hikers to the trail is if they purchase a bus or train ticket back to Skagway from the trails end at Log Cabin, British Columbia. The round-trip is classified as a tour by the city and falls under a completely different set of restrictions.
Under the current code, McClelland would have to be a taxi service to drive people on the one-way trip to Dyea. In order to have a taxi service in Skagway, a business must operate year-round and be on-call 24 hours a day, according to the ordinance.
While it is unlikely that McClelland will start a full taxi service, City Manager Bob Ward said some provision would have to be included in the city code to allow him to drive customers to the Chilkoot Trailhead.
Were not saying that Dyea Dave can operate as a taxi cab, Ward said. Were saying that Dyea Dave...can operate to the Chilkoot Trailhead.
Currently, Frontier Excursions also provides the service to and from the Chilkoot Trail, and the company would have to be also considered, Ward said.
Several City Council members expressed a desire to reinstate Dyea Daves services, but some said they wondered if a change in the code would cause the market to open up for taxi services.
I would like Dave to continue what he has been doing before he was told to stop, City Councilman Michael Catsi said. By giving Dave variance to do this, is that going to open up a whole bunch of other stuff?
Greg Clem, who owns the one taxi service in town, Klondike Tours and Taxi, said he would welcome the competition but would simply like Dyea Dave to comply with the law.
We have no problem with him going out to Dyea as long as thats what hes licensed to do, Clem said. If hes doing point-to-point (delivery) then he needs to become a taxi... Its between him and the city.
Clems service costs $40 to drive as many as nine people out to the Chilkoot Trailhead. His services were heavily regulated by the city, he said. Even price was part of the discussion, with $5 being the minimum fee for a taxi trip.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
LANGUAGE CLASS Lance Twitchell teaches the children the Tlingit words for the familiar rhyme, Head and shoulders, knees and toes. The Tlingit words are ah sha, ah key, ah atee and ah koot. See story in print version of the News. Ardyce Czuchna-Curl
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HEARD ON THE WIND: Town turns to jewelry
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