Skagway’s glacier bear scampers out of the trap in the Katzehein River Valley last week. The Skagway Police Department and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game moved the bear after it visited two hillside homes.
Photo by Ray Leggett, SPD
By MOLLY DISCHNER
Skagwegians no longer have to worry about the two problem bears, but now it is the town’s responsibility to prevent future visitors from becoming regulars.
The mama bear was shot on July 11. Her cub was moved south of the Katzehein River on July 16, said Police Chief Ray Leggett.
Both bears were public safety risks, Leggett said. The sow was seen in dumpsters all over town and made a number of appearances at Mollie Walsh Park and other downtown locations. Her cub, a yearling glacier cub, visited two hillside homes.
By noon the day after the sow was shot, it was cleaned and taken care of, Leggett said. Then Leggett baited the white-phase bear until Fish and Game helped move it on July 16.
Before the baiting, the glacier bear visited two hillside homes. Bruce Schindler reported that the bear was at his home on July 8. The next day, Jim Sager came home to a torn window screen and realized he had a bear in his house.
With his kids waiting in the garage, he called the police. Leggett and officer Dennis Spurrier shot bean bags at the bear, but the bear returned about five times that night, Sager said. The next day, it came back and ripped off the rest of the screens on the windows. Sager said the bear had gotten comfortable at his house.
“The bear had obviously spent a good portion of the afternoon in the house,” he said. There were piles of food in every room, and the bear had used the kids’ playroom as a bathroom, he said.
Shortly after, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided to help Leggett relocate the glacier cub. Biologist Ryan Scott said the decision to move the bear was because it was a risk to the community. Fish and Game also considered the fact that the rest of the family was gone: the sow had been shot, and another sibling was hit by a car and hadn’t been seen since, he said.
“I felt we were obligated to address it as a public safety concern,” Scott said.
Because of the bear’s white color, Scott and Leggett didn’t want the bear to be killed when it threatened someone. Despite the cub’s black head, Scott said it was “100 percent glacier bear.”
“I didn’t want to see it get shot,” Scott said.
There is still a regulation against shooting a white bear in the Skagway area, though the regulation was deemed unenforceable by Fish and Game and the Board of Game after a similarly-colored bear was shot in season in June 2008.
Leggett and National Park Service biologist Dave Schirokauer initially suggested moving this summer’s white-colored bear to the Anchorage Zoo. But Scott said Fish and Game had a “long-standing policy that we don’t put older animals into captivity.” This bear had been living on its own for part of the summer, so it seemed old enough to survive on its own, he said.
From right to left, Ryan Scott and Chad Rice from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game get the trap ready to release the small glacier bear from Skagway. The glacier bear peaks his head out of the trap and then walks out and dashes into the wild on July 16. Photos courtesy Ray Leggett/SPD
Now that they’re gone, Skagway has a second chance to prevent any more bears from getting attached to the town’s garbage.
“It’s kind of like a reprieve, a new start for Skagway,” Leggett said at the July 16 Borough Assembly meeting.
Leggett said that the garbage problem is a public responsibility, and maybe losing the glacier bear would teach people a lesson. It is everyone’s job to prevent bears from dining on the city’s garbage, he said.
Scott agreed. This is a great opportunity for Skagway to keep the problem from reoccurring, he said.
Leggett said the police department is still working with public works to monitor garbage. Assemblyman Mark Schaefer said public works was getting more shipments of bear-resistant Dumpster lids to replace the old lids.
Leggett said those efforts, and Skagwegians’ cooperation, will take care of it.
“Man, I am confident we are done with this problem, and it is a nice problem to be done with,” he said.
By MOLLY DISCHNER
Cruise line representatives weren’t optimistic about future sailings to Alaska at a July 14 meeting with Skagwegians.
The lunchtime conversation aboard the Celebrity Millennium focused on how Alaskans can stop ships from pulling out of the state in upcoming years. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Cruise West have each said they’re pulling a ship from Alaska and redeploying it on other routes. Some of the ships still sailing to Alaska have new itineraries and will bring fewer visitors to the state.
Alaska Cruise Association President John Binkley said the passengers lost from those ships next year represent about 14 percent of the state’s visitors. The state will lose both the tourists’ money and the cruise industry’s efforts to market Alaska as a destination. Binkley warned that it could be a downward spiral of ships leaving in the coming years.
Bob Stone, a senior vice-president at Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, said the economy wasn’t the only reason the ships were being moved. Stone said Alaska’s citizens and government were sending the message that the state was no longer interested in the industry’s business. That message came from clippings in Alaskan newspapers, letters from Alaskans, and the $50 head tax passed in a 2006 voter initiative, he said.
The industry had been characterized as “the bad guy,” he said, and “eventually, the bad guy has had enough.”
If Alaskans want cruise ships to continue docking in Alaska, the state needs to send a new message to the industry, he said.
Businessman Steve Hites suggested a delegation visit to cruise line headquarters and tell industry leaders “Alaska is open for business”. A similar tactic worked for St. Kitt’s, a Caribbean island where Hites owns a railroad and helped lobby for the return of cruise ships.
Stone said that might help, but the government needs to be involved, and needs to do something to welcome the ships back, he said.
The head tax is one part of the problem. Stone said reducing or eliminating the tax would be one way to change the message Alaska sends.
Skagwegians were quick to agree that the tax wasn’t a good idea. According to the State Divison of Elections Website, Skagway voters opposed the measure in the 2006.
Local business owner Dennis Corrington said the tax passed because of political outmaneuvering, not because communities like Skagway are against the industry.
The economic climate has made the tax even more of a problem. Binkley said that the tax had been characterized as a small amount for anyone taking a cruise to Alaska. But when cruise lines lower the price of a cruise, as they did to fill ships this season, it is a significant chunk of the cost.
This year is like a dividend to Alaskans, Stone said. By lowering prices to fill ships headed for Alaska despite the economy, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity had to rely on ships headed to other destinations to subsidize the Alaska cruises, Stone said.
Alaska can’t solve the economic issues at hand, nor is the state responsible for all of the high-costs associated with doing business here. But Stone said that where the state can help, they should.
The discussion aboard the Celebrity Millenium isn’t the only one Skagwegians are participating in.
A summit in Juneau today will engage Southeast residents in a conversation about the industry’s future. The “Economic Summit on Tourism” was organized by the First Things First Alaska Foundation. Hites, Corrington and his wife Nancy Corrington are three of Skagwegians participating. Mayor Tom Cochran was also trying to attend the summit.
Representatives from state and local government organizations will participate in the conversation, as well as others in the tourism industry in Southeast, according to an article by organizer PeggyAnn McConnochie, the foundation’s executive director, in the Capital City Weekly.
? Representatives from Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises showed off the Celebrity Millenium’s environmental compliance during a July 14 tour of the ship.
Dan Butler, the ship’s officer in charge of environmental monitoring, said the cruise industry hadn’t always done the right thing for the environment, but that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity had worked hard to change that over the last six to 10 years.
Rod Pfleiger, from the Alaska Cruise Association, said the standards Alaska set in 2002 were some of the strictest in the world. He said Royal Caribbean and Celebrity spent about $200 million upgrading to those standards.
The voter initiative passed in 2006 imposed even more strict requirements, he said. A bill passed in the last legislative session and signed into law last week, House Bill 134, gives ships more time to comply with the 2006 standards.
The bill also puts together a panel of scientists to review the standards and technology available, said ACA President John Binkley.
Butler said the cruise line can meet the newest standards in some areas, but not all.
Metals are one of the challenging areas, Binkley said.
The 2006 standards require ships to limit copper in gray water (including the water from showers and sinks) to 3.1 parts per billion. Butler said the copper content in the water coming into the ships was already higher than that, and ships don’t have the technology to treat it.
Grey water is collected in holding tanks and taken off the boat onshore or discharged into the ocean, depending on where the ship is, Butler said. The new requirements only apply to water discharged into the ocean.
Ships deal with more than just grey water. Black water (the ships’ name for sewage) is treated with an advanced wastewater treatment program and screened for plastics. By the time it is released, Butler said the water is mostly clear. Alaska Cruise Association President John Binkley said he drank the water once.
“That’s pretty disgusting,” Butler said.
Bilge water – the water that collects on the bottom of the ships – is treated so that it has less than 5 parts per million of oil, and then released. The oil that is extracted is taken onshore with the ship’s used oil.
Contaminants in water aren’t the only waste that has to be taken care of on a ship. Onboard the Millenium, overseeing waste disposal is part of Butler’s duties.
“We do recycle as much as we possibly can,” he said. About 60 to 65 percent of the ship’s waste-stream, and including aluminum, batteries, glass, and some paper and plastics, is recycled.
The paper and plastic that can’t be recycled is burned in an incinerator onboard the ship. The resulting ash is thrown away onshore as dry waste, he said. To minimize emissions, the incinerator uses less fuel than a conventional one would.
Another change in operations after the 2006 initiative was the addition of an “ocean ranger” program that puts state employees onboard cruise ships to monitor compliance with a variety of standards.
Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Senior Vice-President Bob Stone said he thought the state was not getting its money’s worth from the rangers, but that the program (now in its third year) was working out. Stone said asking rangers to monitor compliance with all standards gave them a larger job than voters probably intended too, and suggested voters probably thought the rangers would be responsible for environmental compliance.
Not every effort to be more environmentally-friendly was mandated by the voter initiative.
Right now, ships are dependent on fuel for their energy. Engineer Niko Politsis said the Celebrity Millennium uses about 3,400 gallons an hour at cruising speed and 480 gallons in port. The in-port number equates to about seven megawatts of power, he said.
Cruise lines and the towns they dock in are both working to provide alternate sources of energy. Seven megawatts is more than Skagway can provide, but larger towns, like Juneau, are able to allow some ships to plug-in.
Even without plugging in, cruise ships won’t always be as dependent on fuel, Butler said. Future ships will probably involve energy sources like photovoltaic and wind power, he said. – MD
By ANDREW CREMATA
A humpback whale was spotted entangled in the line of a locally set crab pot near Burro Creek in the Taiya Inlet on Monday August 20. An effort to fully assess the situation was underway Tuesday by officials at NOAA, who are hopeful the whale can free itself from the rope.
Burro creek resident Jan Wrentmore said the buoy was floating free on Tuesday, but the water was too rough when she tried to go out and look at it Wednesday morning. Wrentmore planned to go out Wednesday or Thursday to check.
Ed Lyman, who works for NOAA, said there are two possibilities: either the whale got free, or part of the rope and buoy snapped off but the whale was still tangled with the crab pot. Lyman said they would figure out which was the case by pulling the rope and seeing if the crab pot was attached. That would also help determine how much of the rope might still be tied to the whale.
Wrentmore first reported the tangled whale at 2:30 p.m Monday. Wrentmore noticed the rope around the animal and phoned Lyman, on detail from Hawaii with NOAA fisheries.
Lyman said Wrentmore related that the cetacean was “wheezing and spinning.” Lyman said this behavior is indicative of a stressed humpback, and he believed the entanglement had occurred shortly before it was seen by Wrentmore.
“I am thinking within a couple of hours,” said Lyman.
Lyman said the local fisherman whose gear inadvertently entangled the whale had been contacted and reported that he had checked the crab pot a couple of days prior.
Lyman said that after receiving Wrentmore’s call, officials at NOAA looked into an immediate response but the “weather was not cooperating.”
Local residents Michael Yee and Jay McClendon rode out to the injured animal around 5 p.m. to photograph the whale in an effort to aid NOAA in their assessment of the situation.
McClendon said the whale seemed to be wrapped several times by the line and one section was partially blocking the blowhole.
Lyman said the photographs also indicated there was scarring on the animal, most likely caused by a previous encounter with a trap line of some kind. He said this was evidence of the fact that humpbacks frequently are able to free themselves from such entanglements.
“There’s a good chance it will free itself,” said Lyman. “At least 50-50.”
Lyman said responding to a humpback that has been recently stressed poses a great deal of danger to those who would attempt to cut free the line.
As of press time, the Coast Guard was working with NOAA to try and find the whale via helicopter reconnaissance and assess its current whereabouts and condition. Lyman said even though the whale is large, it can be like trying to “find a needle in a haystack.”
McClendon reported the whale appeared to be moving south toward Haines Mon. evening.
Lyman works at the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary and is in his fourth summer in Alaska. He said such entanglements are not uncommon and the whale would receive assistance from NOAA if it cannot free itself from the rope.
Haines dancer Lee Heinmiller, Buster Sheperd from the Skagway Traditional Council, Lisa Land from the Haida Corporation, Tlingit dancer Charlie Jimmie Sr., Gene Strong of Haines and STC’s Andy Beierly cut the ribbon at the Kasidaya dedication. MD
By MOLLY DISCHNER
The Kasidaya Creek Hydro Project dedication on July 10 focused on two parts of the project: renewable energy and a working relationship with the Alaska Native communities in the Upper Lynn Canal.
Kasidaya Creek, about three miles south of Skagway, started providing power to the Upper Lynn Canal last fall. The three-megawatt hydro project is the first Alaska Power and Telephone project to use a Native name.
In celebration of the name, a group of Tlingit and Haida men and women cut the green ribbon in front of the new facility.
Kasidaya means “around the face of the waterfall.” Charlie Jimmie Sr., one of two Tlingit dancers who spoke during the brief dedication, said the name was also representative of the people who had come together to make the project happen.
“I’ve looked into the faces here and I’ve seen love in the eyes,” said Jimmie.
AP&T Regional Manager Stan Selmer said the project had support from a number of state and federal entities including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Denali Commission, and the Skagway and Haines Boroughs. He also thanked Native groups from both Skagway and Haines for their support.
Other AP&T representatives talked about the transition to renewable energy sources.
AP&T CEO Bob Grimm said power in the area had once been mostly non-renewable and is now mostly renewable.
“Today we’re around 67 percent renewable,” he said.
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines said he was excited about the progress in the Upper Lynn Canal’s energy sources over the years.
“We’ve come a long ways,” he said “I’m proud to be part of it.”
Mike Barry, the company’s chairman, echoed Thomas and Grimm’s excitement.
“I can’t tell you how joyous it is to commemorate a green facility,” Barry said.
The company isn’t finished bringing hydro projects online in the Upper Lynn Canal. Barry said that the next hydro project would be at Connelly Lake, near Haines.
Boatloads of Skagway and Haines residents attended the ceremony, along with visitors from outside the area, including Denali Commission representatives and AP&T personnel from Outside.
The visitors were able to tour the powerhouse and enjoy snacks and desserts during the open house and dedication ceremony.
By MOLLY DISCHNER
The sound of White Pass and Yukon Route trains traveling through Skagway and up the summit is starting to change. WP&YR’s newest rebuilt engine arrived in Skagway July 7.
At the engine’s July 9 christening, WPYR President Gary Danielson said the locomotive now is one of the most modern in the world. It’s more powerful, efficient, and environmentally-friendly than its predecessors.
But it still took all day to unload the locomotive from the barge that brought it north. More than a dozen men in hard hats helped direct the locomotive from the barge to the train tracks on the Broadway dock. When Engine 98 finally pulled forward for the first time, an engineer onboard rang one of the locomotive’s many bells.
After he watched the engine take off towards the yard, WPYR’s Senior Vice President Michael Brandt said the locomotive’s arrival was a success.
“All in all, really successful,” he said.
While Dave Swanson, President of Coast Engine and Equipment Company, sat in the engineer’s seat and directed the train on its first ride, the crew onboard tested all of the locomotive’s bells and whistles. Brandt taped the locomotive’s noises and said the engine had a completely new sound.
Engine 98 is the first of eleven engines being rebuilt and renamed as the Controlled Emissions Repower System 140-class. The second engine is done and scheduled to return from Tacoma later this month. The rest of the fleet is scheduled to be completed by 2012. Known as GE 90-class locomotives, the engines are the railroad’s oldest diesel locomotives.
CEECO, Swanson’s company, rebuilt 98 but shut down in May. The rest of the engines will be rebuilt by a sister company, using the same suppliers and the same parts, said Brandt.
Men get newly rebuilt Engine 98 ready to be towed from the AML Barge Ramp to the Broadway Dock so it can be unloaded onto the train tracks. Engine 98 is pulled off the AML barge ramp on July 7. Molly Dischner
The sounds aren’t the only change to the engines.
The locomotives were refit with Cummings Engines and new electronic control systems. The control systems will help reduce idling, which will help reduce wear and overheating of engine components. According to a fact sheet about the engines, the system also increases traction and enables the locomotives to operate with more horsepower.
Smoke and hazardous waste oil will be eliminated, and stack emissions will be reduced by about 80 percent, according to information provided in a statement. The engine is also 30 percent more fuel-efficient than the old GE-90 class.
They’re also more powerful. Brandt said two of the new engines will do the work of three of the old ones. The rebuilt engines have 60 percent more horsepower, Danielson said in a statement last fall.
Although it’s been christened, the new engine won’t be put to work right away.
Brandt said the new technology used on the 98 means that it can run with Engine 114 (rebuilt after 2006 work train accident) or the new Engine 90, once it returns. White Pass will spend about a month testing it out before it is paired with either engine to make the trip to the summit.
Recent incidents in Skagway and Anchorage are a reminder that dogs and people do not belong on train tracks.
White Pass and Yukon Route safety manager Ed Ibbotson said there have been two bad accidents with dogs in Skagway over the years, and a number of close calls. One dog was killed, and another had a back leg cut off, he said.
The most recent incident in Skagway was three weeks ago, when a train almost hit a dog, he said. But hitting dogs isn’t the railroad’s biggest fear.
“Our concern is that dog owners will try to rescue the dogs off the tracks and we’ll have a fatality like the one up in Anchorage,” he said.
The Anchorage Daily News reported earlier this month that a man was killed when a train hit him while he was trying to get his dog off the tracks. The man was not on the tracks, but was reaching for the dog when they both were killed.
Ibbotson said he wanted to prevent a similar fatality in Skagway.
“Anywhere that people walk their dogs they need to get them under control if trains are coming,” he said.
Municipal ordinance requires dogs to be kept on a leash in public parks and most public areas in Skagway.
The Lower Lake trailhead is the major problem-area, Ibbotson said.
“Keep dogs on leash until they’re well away from the tracks,” he said. “The trailhead is the worst spot.”
Ibbotson said the tracks near Pullen Pond and the Gold Rush Cemetery can also be a problem.
Ibbotson said that it is hard for an engineer to stop because he risks injuring passengers with a sudden stop. –MD
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
REELING HER IN– Michael Yee catches a fish on July 19 during the fifth annual Pat Moore Fishing Derby. Read the story and see more photos and ‘Fish This!’ below. Andrew Cremata
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