Nora Berken gives her big dog Axl a drink between innings at the Skagway Coed Softball Championships last weekend. See more fun photos on the Sports and Rec. page.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Teamsters take contract dispute with WP&YR public
By JEFF BRADY
Skagway members of Teamster Local 959 began displaying bumper stickers and signs this week which state, Teamster Rail Workers Demand Fair Contract.
The unions Southeast business representative, Tim Sunday of Juneau, said the signs were made to show union solidatiry and draw the publics attention to the fact that workers had been without a contract for 19 months.
Weve never gone this long, he said. Theres a level of frustration and were trying to find some middle ground to get this contract done.
Rumors of an informational picket had been circulating for a week and the bumper stickers began appearing on Tuesday, Aug. 7. A picket may start, he said, but stressed its not a strike, no work slowdown, just time to get the word out.
The company filed for federal mediation in September 2006 and the parties met July 24-25 in Skagway without reaching an agreement, Sunday said. They are scheduled to meet again with the federal mediators in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 23-24. Sunday said members are upset that they have to send people to Washington to meet with the mediator and company representatives from Toronto. White Pass parent Tri-White of Toronto has been leading the negotiations, not local management, Sunday said.
WP&YR worker Brad Thoe paints over duct tape letters on his garage across the street from the railroad shops after work on Wednesday. Thoe, who joined the railroad work force in 1974, said, Nineteen months without a contract is long enough. Jeff Brady
I hope we can get the agreement completed when we go to D.C. with the help of the federal mediator, Sunday added. This affects 55 families here.
When asked about this weeks moves by the Teamsters members, WP&YR President Gary Danielson said: Were in continued negotiations with the Teamsters union, and currently are under federal regulations as per the National Mediation Board, and they have set a meeting scheduled for Washington, D.C. for both parties to meet on Aug 23. and we look forward to a mutual agreement at that time.
Danielson said the companys corporate attorney and Alaska attorney have been negotiating with the Teamsters committee. He confirmed that the old agreement with the union had expired, but that under the National Railway Act, the contract remains status quo till a new agreement is reached.
He added that the railroad is in a similiar status quo situation with its other union, the engine and trainmen of the United Transportation Union.
High Yukon lake levels force suspension of Carcross train
The White Pass & Yukon Route suspended its operations between Bennett, British Columbia and Carcross, Yukon late last month due to the unprecedented high water levels in the Southern Lakes District of the Yukon.
WP&YR President Gary C. Danielson said in a press release that the risk of high water levels compounded by wind was threatening its railroad bridge in Carcross.
The railroad had planned to wait until July 27, but the Canadian roadmaster made the call July 24 after a windy night on the lake. Sections of the railroad bed along Lake Bennett were beginning to erode (see photos).
Passengers already holding reservations on the new service are being transported by motorcoach to and from Carcross, and arrangements have been made to take those passengers in and out of Bennett by rail from either Fraser or Log Cabin.
The water has stopped rising, but to date there has been no change in operations.
It seems to have leveled off, Danielson said this week in an e-mail, but, until it starts receding and we can have full assessment of roadbed along the lake, we will continue operations as we are currently doing.
This is one of the stretches of track along Lake Bennett that has seen roadbed erosion from the lake.
Vince Federoff, Whitehorse Star
An engineer also will be brought in to inspect the bridge prior to resumption of service.
The WP&YR brought back regular passenger train service to Carcross this summer for the first time since 1982.
The rising waters have resulted in near-record lake levels at close to 175 percent above normal, said a Yukon Government spokesman in a radio interview last week. Ironically, it nearly matches the 178 percent more than normal snowfall in the region last winter, he said.
Yukoners have pitched in to make up nearly 10,000 sandbags to protect many lake-front properties in the Marsh Lake, Tagish and Carcross areas.
Borough seeks public input on proposed ballot props, land sale
Sales tax, bonding propositions floated
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Borough Assembly is seeking direction on the wording of two ballot propositions under consideration for the Oct. municipal election which have significant impacts on the finances of the municipality and residents.
Two ordinances were introduced at the August 2 assembly meeting and will be up for second reading and public hearing on Aug. 16.
Ordinance 07-21 would ask voter approval for an increase in the sales tax rate from 4 to 6 percent during the second and third quarters (April-September visitor season), and knocking it to zero in the first and fourth quarters (winter season). It also would eliminate sales tax on groceries year-round.
Ordinance 07-22 would ask voters to authorize the sale of general obligation bonds up to $5 million toward construction of the new Dahl Memorial Clinic.
Mayor Tom Cochran said the sales tax ordinance, as written, is an attempt to address the municipalitys financial needs and place more of the burden on the people that produce the burden, and relax the burden on year-round residents.
The borough attorney is presently checking into the legality of dropping the tax to zero percent in the winter, he noted. Assembly member Colette Hisman suggested that the winter tax should be 2 percent so we are covered on it.
Mike Korsmo added that the borough maybe should also wait and see what the states cruise ship tax brings into the municipality, but others at the table said they did not want to depend on the whims of the state legislature.
Finance chair Dan Henry, who floated a different tax proposition last year which failed, said this new version essentially drops the present sales tax rate for the year-round resident by 25 percent and takes away the tax on groceries for all. Henry added that tax rates in the region range from 5 to 7.5 percent, so were not going to sticker shock any tourists with a summer sales tax of 6 percent.
Hisman offered an amendment to change the rate to 2 percent in the winter. Henry countered that if the tax rate dropped from 6 to 2 percent, then the overall effect would basically be the same as a 4 percent year-round tax. Others at the table said they would be more comfortable with 3 percent in winter and 5 percent in summer.
On the vote on the amendment, Hisman, Korsmo and Mark Schaefer voted for it, while L.C. Cassidy, Dave Hunz and Henry voted against it. Cochran broke the tie with a no, saying this was designed so people who live here year-round would see a reduction.
The ordinance then passed first reading on a 4-2 vote with Hunz and Korsmo voting against it.
That was just a blast. chimed the new mayor.
All wanted to hear more from residents about the proposition wording at the next meeting. An opinion from the attorney also will be a deciding factor.
There was some worry that the sales tax debate might take away from the importance of the clinic bond proposition. Cochran and others said the city had possibly made some mistakes in the past by waiting until it had funds available for big projects, and thus paying higher construction costs. With a big project like the new clinic ñ now estimated in the $8.2 million range ñ the city could sell bonds, and the Rasmuson Foundation or Denali Commission would fund the balance. Cochran said voter approval of a bond issue would show the kind of community support for the project that those support agencies like to see.
Henry said that in discussions with borough financial planner Skip Elliott, they had looked at general obligation bonds of up to $5 million, with a 10-year payback period.
Were in the neighborhood of 40-year lows (for interest rates), Henry said. They wont be here much longer... loaners will fast-track us if this bond issue passes.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said that construction costs on a project like the clinic are increasing by a half million dollars a year. He advised assembly members to shop with both Wells Fargo and the states bonding bank for the best rate, and set up a local bond council on the advice of their attorney to make sure were not doing anything wrong.
The bonding proposition ordinance passed unanimously on first reading.
Municipality tackles Taiya Inlet Subdivision
By CASEY DEAN
Three recent meetings in Skagway have adjourned with the desire for public feedback regarding the future of the Taiya Inlet Subdivision and Dyea Management Plan.
The Dyea Community Advisory Board, local Planning and Zoning Commission and Skagway Borough Assembly want to hear from more community members at their meetings while the land disposal and management plan are designed.
The assembly voted Aug. 2 on the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the disposal of municipal lands by lottery.
The first reading will spur public comment, Cochran said. The second reading will follow a public hearing at the Aug. 16 assembly meeting.
According to the ordinance, the municipality will offer seven lots in the Taiya Inlet Subdivision and three lots along Dyea Point for a lottery sale in October. These include lots 1-3, 5-7 and 9 of Block A of the Taiya Inlet Subdivision and lots 1, 5 and 7 of Alaska State Land Survey 79-183. The lots will be sold at fair market value, which will be determined in an upcoming appraisal.
Though the value of the lots is yet unknown, the assembly agreed on terms requiring a seven percent down payment on a 12-year note at seven percent interest. Assembly member Colette Hisman said establishing terms gives the public a place to start when considering changes to the ordinance before the final reading.
Cochran said the land sales will cover the costs of constructing the road and installing utilities, which will likely be completed in one undertaking.
We also have a fairly healthy land fund, added Assembly member Mike Korsmo. Even if we dont get enough money from the sales.
The assembly voted to impose a limit of one ticket per person. Members also considered limiting ticket purchases to residents or registered voters of Skagway, but member Dave Hunz said that would defeat the purpose of the land disposal.
Its for residential development, he said. How else are we going to entice people to move here? Korsmo responded with concern for current residents who are limited in housing because there is not enough property.
Bruce Weber updated the assembly on plans for exchanging portions of his property on Dyea Point for municipal entitlement land to facilitate the development of an access road to the new subdivision as well as a parcel for a fire and public works facility. The exchange cannot be completed until the final plat for the subdivision is approved.
The DCAB met Aug. 1 and gave the go-ahead on several projects for the area that should ease long-term planning for Dyea. Members also agreed to seek community input for future meetings.
DCAB member Mary McCaffrey said she had been asked by P&Z to provide them with more input for the Dyea Management Plan during their last meeting. The board agreed to alert Dyea community members about the opportunity to voice their opinions at the Aug. 9 P&Z meeting.
Korsmo and Samantha Staley, Alaska Conservation Foundation intern for the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council, spoke about a grant proposal to the National Park Service Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program. The grant would provide administrative, not financial, assistance to help further the Dyea Land Management Plan Ö really just to feather out the plan you guys have been working on, Korsmo said.
The grant would come at no cost to the community, he added. The board agreed to be listed as the principle contact. Staley also received support from the board to use Geographic Information System mapping software to create comprehensive, updated maps of the Dyea Flats, including trails and types of uses.
Problem bears, protected bears
By CASEY DEAN
Last week, Mayor Tom Cochran addressed managing increasing incidents with bears, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game considered protection for the local spirit bear.
The spirit bear and bear hunting was the subject of a teleconference with the Board of Game Thursday afternoon after this paper went to press, and public safety meeting is scheduled for next Monday afternoon.
During the Aug. 2 Borough Assembly meeting, Cochran raised the issue of problem bears in the area in order to prevent surprise in the community should it become necessary to put one down.
We have a bear problem, he said. Id rather see a bear destroyed than a person killed. He added that destroying bears will be a last resort and the municipality will consider other options such as bear-proof garbage bins before taking that course of action.
Tim Steidel, Klondike Gold Rush National Park Service Chief Ranger, said the state no longer relocates problem bears, because bears are so mobile and have such large home ranges that it is difficult to relocate them where they will not return. There are also few places bears can be taken in which they wont be problematic for someone else.
We really try to emphasize education and prevention as best we can, Steidel said. He encourages the public to keep garbage, gasoline, pet food and compost piles inside, behind locked doors or in bear-proof containers, because it only takes one incident, then that bear is food conditioned.
When bears do start investigating open trash receptacles, Steidel said, noise and non-lethal rounds are employed to condition the bears. He said a problem bear has not been destroyed in Skagway since before 1994.
At least 27 reports of bears have been made in Skagway this summer, according to the Skagway Police Department, up from about 15 last year. Most reports have been made on the same two bears. For the most part, a siren or air horn is enough to send a bear on its way, but the department has also employed beanbags. These two bears have become regulars at Jewell Gardens and the Klondike Gold Dredge.
Jewell Gardens employee Chelsea Bennett said the compost pile and fertilizer with fish emulsion have attracted a bear to the site several times, but it hasnt caused any problems.
Its just hung around, she said.
Leah Lophsire, financial assistant at the dredge, said a more disruptive bear has been visiting them.
Weve had one or two bears getting into our trash the last couple of weeks, she said. The SPD was called on the first sighting. When deputies arrived, the bear barreled through the historic dredge itself, Lopshire said. She said her co-workers have not mentioned such incidents occurring at the dredge in previous years.
Lopshire said bear-proof garbage bins or locks were ordered for the business and employees with housing near the dredge have stopped leaving trash outside.
Yukon port study looks at big numbers, improvements for Skagway facilities
By JEFF BRADY
A sideline of the recently released Alaska-Yukon rail study was a Yukon Ports Access Strategy document, which includes several scenarios that involve Skagway.
Borough Mayor Tom Cochran is in the process of forming a Skagway Port Development committee to explore the options outlined in the document.
The study attempts to look at what the southern ports of Skagway, Haines and Stewart, B.C. can handle based on various mineral development scenarios.
The study lists 15 Yukon mines that could be developed, ranging from the billion metric ton Crest iron project in the northern Yukon to smaller mines like the Minto copper project which will produce less than a million tons. If all the mines were developed, there would be a potential movement of more than 25 million tons a year.
Currently about 30,000 tons of re-supply freight move through Skagway and Haines a year, but Skagway is already seeing the first shipments of copper ore from Minto, an additional 75 metric tons per day. That will soon grow to 150 tons per day.
The short term scenario, with development of smaller mines, sees an increase to a half million metric tons a year, or about 70-80 truck movements per day through Haines and Skagway. In a medium term scenario that assumes development of the proposed Alaska Highway Gas Pipeline, traffic would jump to 1.5 million tons per year, with 210 to 240 truck movements per day. Long-term scenarios with or without the huge Crest development would involve anywhere from 350 to 3,600 truck movements a day. The latter volume alone (27 million tons a year) suggests the need for a rail spur following the Dempster Highway and connecting the Crest deposit to Haines 970 kilometers away.
The studys feasibility analysis and financial assessment concludes that Skagway and Haines are the preferred port options over Stewart. It states Skagways port facilities and transportation links, both road and rail, could handle up to about 3 million metric tons of minerals and coal, along with re-supply traffic.
But it cautions, A key consideration is that the necessary infrastructure for the industrial traffic cannot significantly impact on the tourism and cruise ship activities that are important to the economic vitality of the city.
To that end, it explores port development scenarios that involve splitting up the tourism and commodity zones if volumes grow.
The existing terminal site can handle up to 500,000 metric tons, but would require a bigger building, a new traveling ship loader and wharf upgrades about $22 million in improvements. However, if volumes grew to a million tons a year with coal shipments, then there would have to be a new coal dome on the terminal site and another storage site at the old White Pass tank farm. The coal from that upland site would move to the ship loader via a mile-long covered bypass conveyor which could move 1,000 tons of coal an hour. It would cross the Skagway River and move in a trench along the airport.
To facilitate the movement of such volumes, the scenarios show that the ferry terminal could be moved to the Skagway River side of the harbor, so a new cruise dock could take its place. Bulk-carrying ships of 50-80,000 tons would then have exclusive use of the ore dock, which would become a public facility, no longer owned by White Pass. Port improvement costs, depending on potential volumes and facility needs, would range from $64 million to $144 million, with participation by AIDEA, the borough, White Pass and the Alaska Department of Transportation.
The study sees the old Army tank farm at Haines as another possible long-term port alternative, especially if a rail link is developed. It envisions Haines port improvements of $1.3 billion on top of the estimated $5.4 billion rail spur line.
At the Aug. 2 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Cochran said he had half of the committee appointed: Roy Matson of Yukon Economic Development, John Wood of AIDEA, and Paul Axelson of Southeast Stevedoring. The committee will be rounded out with a representative from White Pass and an at-large member from the public. Cochran said if anyone is interested in serving, contact him or the borough office.
New KGRNHP superintendent will come from Glacier Bay
National Park Service Regional Director Marcia Blaszak has announced that Susan Boudreau was recently selected to be the next superintendent at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Susan brings a strong background in partnerships and resource protection. She will be a wonderful asset to us as Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park continues to offer excellent opportunities for visitors to the park, stated Blaszak.
Boudreau has more than 20 years of experience, including work at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Denali National Park and Preserve, Chugach National Forest and Southwest national forests.
Throughout my career, I have been involved in major organizational changes to improve short- and long-term strategic planning, said Boudreau. I am very excited for the opportunity to work with the outstanding Klondike staff, the local community of Skagway, the significant resources such as the popular routes
of the Chilkoot Trail corridor (including Dyea) and White Pass trail and linking the incredible historic story to our visitors, said Boudreau.
Furthermore, I am looking forward to working with Parks Canada in the management of the Klondike Gold Rush International Historic Park. Klondike Gold Rush is the most visited park unit in Alaska with nearly one million visitors arriving this year.
Boudreau received her bachelors degree in forest management and her masters degree in ecosystem ecology from Oregon State University. She enjoys cooking, hiking, skiing and kayaking. Boudreau begins her new assignment in early September.
She replaces former Superintendent Jim Corless who left Skagway in June to accept the superintendent post at Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
GARDEN BRUIN A black bear explores the flowers, compost and putting green at Jewell Gardens last week. See top stories and police blotter to follow these bears around town.
Photo by Chelsea Bennett
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