WP&YR Vice President Michael Brandt welcomes everyone in Carcross to pick up a hat at the conclusion of the railways historic announcement that it will return to the Yukon in 2007. See story below.
Jeff Brady photo
Holland America commits 20,000 riders to Carcross train runs next summer
WP&YR to reopen Bennett eating house; more work for Yukoners
By JEFF BRADY
CARCROSS The White Pass and Yukon Route will be running trains to and from this Yukon community six days a week next summer.
Gary C. Danielson, president of the railroad, made the joint announcement July 29, with Steve Leonard, vice president of Holland America Line. About 200 people came out on a beautiful day and greeted a WP&YR train that arrived at the old Carcross depot on the 106th anniversary of the railroads golden spike.
Following a welcoming prayer in Tlingit and English from Carcross-Tagish First Nation elder Ida Calmagene, Danielson made the historic announcement.
Danielson first recognized all his employees and said the railroad had spent almost $8 million U.S. reconstructing the track from the Canadian border north and Carcross for several years, with the idea that once a market is identified, then service would resume to the Yukon.
Today I am proud to announce that after a 25-year absence of service the White Pass & Yukon Route will begin scheduled daily passenger service between Carcross and Skagway, and return, every day except Saturday.
Danielson was interrupted by loud applause. Were going to start our service in May 2007.
Two trains will depart Carcross and Skagway those mornings, stopping at Bennett, where passengers will be served a family style luncheon, before they continue on.
Danielson said the commitment comes from his company in dollars and equipment and finding a partner to make it happen. He announced that Holland America will carry all of its Yukon-bound passengers on the railway next summer, providing an initial base of more then 20,000 passengers.
WP&YR President Gary Danielson and Holland Americas Steve Leonard.
Thanks to Holland America, he added. Its only fitting that the two pioneering companies in the development of tourism in Yukon, Holland America and White Pass, have made the continuing commitment to the norths future.
Danielson also thanked the CTFN for their full support and cooperation in allowing the crossing of their traditional lands, and honoring an agreement that dates back to the railroads beginnings in 1898.
That treaty stated that we would not only honor the lands of the CTFN, but as long as the railroad operated that the White Pass would employ the people of the CTFN, Danielson said. That commitment has never been broken in 108 years, Im proud to say.
After more applause, Danielson added that the railroad promises to tell not only the story of the gold rush, but to portray truthfully the story of these traditional lands.
Danielson said the railroad would build five new coaches for the service, in addition to restoring five older wooden coaches. This will give us the ability to create additional markets as we move along, he said, adding that the old Carcross depot, which has been leased for several years to the government as a visitor center, would now share that use with a ticket office and retail operation.
Danielson thanked Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture Elaine Taylor, who was in the audience, for the territorial governments encouragement of ongoing efforts to the development of Yukon. Also present were the chairpersons of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.
Danielson closed by saying, After 25 years, the Yukon is back in White Pass and Yukon Route again.
Then he turned the podium over to Leonard, who rode up from Skagway on the train. He opened his remarks by saying he was on the last train out of Whitehorse in 1982, and this was a much better ride today.
We think a lot of the White Pass and we at Holland America are really excited to be able to bring this extension of the rail leg to our guests, Leonard said.
He added that the announcement is in line with other enhancements to make our commitment to the Yukon a little stronger, including Kluane Park and Tombstone Park and expanded Westmark hotel facilities in Dawson City.
Starting next year, he added, the company is investing about $4 million in about 40 motorcoaches that will be dedicated to serving the Fairbanks-Dawson-Skagway/Carcross route.
Were cutting the passenger load from 54 down to 45, which will increase the leg room for passengers, equivalent to first class air travel, he said. There also will be leather seats, a galley, and six 15-inch flat screen TVs in each coach for viewing videos. Im told one of them is called Working Girls of the Yukon.
For the extremely popular Tombstone tours up the Dempster Highway, now in their second season, the company is building new 23-passenger, high-dome coaches with huge windows
Were doing a lot to enhance what the Yukon visitor sees and to keep our commitment to continue to bring more and people through the Yukon, hopefully spending money with all of you, as well as us, Leonard said, adding to Danielson, I must really have some faith in you because all these people that youre bringing to Bennett for lunch, Ive been feeding them lunch at the hotel in Whitehorse and now youre taking money out of my pocket.... Anyway its great to be part of this and we look forward to a long and prosperous partnership with the White Pass.
Michael Brandt, vice president of marketing and planning for the WP&YR, encouraged everyone to enjoy tea and bannock at the Koolseen Heritage Centre, and view the displays outside the old depot which showed visions of an enhanced Carcross and a concept for the 2007 company calendar which will feature the Yukon community.
Carcross rail worker Rick Halliday and Dancing Dawn with RCMP Corp. Paul Zechel.
Another display showed photos of the 18 members of the Carcross Maintenance of Way section.
Rick Halliday, a Carcross-based employee of the WP&YR, commented, I think I can speak for just about everybody here in Carcross its a great day. Weve been waiting for this day to arrive, and here we are. Its official, with the commitment from Holland America, and its all great.
Halliday said work on the line has been going well, adding This will also mean a lot of work for locals. Its a win, win, win situation. With more track to maintain, it will keep everybody busy, and there will be a lot of spin-off.
Danielson said later that the new service will be in addition to what WP&YR currently offers, meaning that train-highway service to Fraser, B.C. would continue as well. This is not addition by subtraction.
The same it true for the Westmark in Skagway.
Jim Sager, general manager of Skagways largest hotel, said the new service will have no net effect on his operation, as those north and southbound Holland America passengers will still come this way, and those that choose the overnight Skagway option will stay.
Theres no loss of room nights, but we can hope the new service will attract more people and result in more room nights, Sager said.
Leonard said the new service is already being promoted in the 2007 Holland America Alaska brochure and online.
Ballot Measure Two, the cruise initiative, raises voices in ship-happy Skagway
Aug. 22 primary vote nears
By EMILY A. PALM
Thumb through the primary election voter pamphlet and the responsible individual taking advantage of their right to Vote! may notice that Measure Two takes a hefty chunk of the literature.
The multifaceted Measure Two has people talking. One is hard-pressed to find someone raving about the measure in Skagway, admitted Gershon Cohen, co-drafter of the measure.
It can be broken up into five topics: a $46 head tax that will go to a fund and divided between ports of call, an environmental observer program, the enabling of civilians in lawsuits against cruise-ships for breaking laws, mandatory disclosure from the cruise ship to its passengers of commission rates received for tours sold and stores advertised on board the ship, and putting a tax on the casinos that operate in Alaska waters.
The range of issues on the measure reflects the broad-based coalition that formed the initiative, said Joe Geldhof, co-drafter of the measure. While there was lively discussion regarding tapering it down to fewer issues, Geldhof said ultimately they decided to put it all in because of the collective effort needed to gather the 23,000 signatures on the petition to make the ballot.
Theres nothing radical on here, said Geldhof, adding that the measure would make the cruise industry adhere to the same pollution standards as fisheries, municipalities, and gas and oil companies. Drafting techniques to adopt the similar basic body of law makes it long. Its not meant to be long, onerous and punitive, said the Juneau attorney.
Many have said they feel overwhelmed by the amount of issues on it and have a difficult time deciphering exactly what the measure would bring.
Its written very poorly, said Beth Butzlaff, White Pass and Yukon Route vice president of sales and marketing. She doesnt believe any part of the measure is worth looking at. We dont even know where the moneys going, she said on the head tax that would give $5 to the city for every person that comes into port on a cruise ship.
The local executive echoes the sentiment of many Skagway businesspersons. When calling Skagway businesses to discuss the measure, Cohen, a Haines activist involved with the Alaska Clean Water Alliance, said no one was interested.
No one will benefit as much as Skagway, said Cohen, who thinks its ironic that the city is so against the measure since it could bring in $4.5 million a year.
Buckwheat could have saved himself all those running shoes, he said, noting that money brought in by the head tax could go towards a new clinic as well as the sea-walk. Local people wouldnt be paying for it from their own taxes, said Cohen.
Recently Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean executives came through Skagway on their annual tour to talk with locals. They visit ports of call to build relationships with businesses and the city. They heard concerns and discussed funding local projects and said the head tax would simply add an extra layer of bureaucracy.
The cruise industry is a unique business, said John Fox, vice president of global, governmental and community relations for Celebrity. Since the cruise industry doesnt take natural resources from Alaska, they dont see why they should fall under the same set of laws as oil, gas and fishing companies, he noted.
Many people in the ports they visit have questioned the need for the state to get involved in determining what projects they can fund when they can sit down and work with the cruise lines, said Fox.
The cities of Skagway, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, along with the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and several visitor bureaus are among those against the measure. The reason why the communities we go through are opposed to this is that we pay our way in those communities, said Fox.
This measure has people weighing the need for the money for tourism infrastructure with the possible risk of business lost.
Losing even one percent of business as a result of an extra tax reigned as a major concern of Butzlaffs. A one percent reduction in people visiting could result in Alaska losing $20 million and 250 jobs.
Everybody has a budget, said Celebrity Cruises President Dan Hanrahan, regardless of how much money they have. They may still buy the cruise and they may still come, he said of a typical family of five, but when they get here theyre gonna have $250 less to spend. He added that instead of going to small businesses and lodges, money will go to the governments new layer of bureaucracy.
One intention of the measure is to help small businesses, said Cohen, who doesnt believe local establishments would suffer a reduction in income. The literature put out by the cruise industries is spun to look pro-local business because of what the focus groups have told them, he said.
The cruise lines dont support small businesses, said Cohen. Holland America owns the Gray Line buses that go to Denali where people stay at the Denali Lodge, which is owned by Princess, said Cohen. He added that Carnival owns Westmark, Princess and Holland America. The buses and lodges used to be locally owned, Cohen said, adding, theyre putting Alaskas small businesses out of business.
Cohen calculated that the average cruiser spends about $4,000 on travel to the departure dock, incidentals and shopping and tours at each port of call.
Celebrity Cruises President Dan Hanrahan, right, hosted a lunch last week on the Summit with local business leaders, including Skagway Mayor Tim Bourcy (wearing tie), seen chatting with Craig Milan of Royal Celebrity Tours and Kate Tesar of Juneau who coordinates the annual community tours for RCCL/Celebrity. JB
Do the math, he said, saying the tax would increase the cost of an Alaskan cruise by 1.5 percent. Were talking about money spent six months in advance, Cohen added.
You cannot fill a tank on your car for that, Cohen said on the $50. I cant say it with a straight face, he said on the prospect that people would change their spending habits so drastically.
Skagway resident Scott Home can say it with a very straight face. He believes the city of Skagway would lose business. The truth of the matter is, Home said, once they spend the money on the trip, theyre tighter than Scrooge.
Home said its unfortunate that the drafters included the tax, because he believes in passing the environmental provisions of the measure.
Working in Glacier Bay, Home said he witnessed many accounts of illegal dumping. Home sees the merits of having a state employed marine engineer, or Ocean Ranger, on board each cruise ship to monitor environmental standards.
Celebrity executives said they currently pay $1 per passenger to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to monitor their discharges. People can come on board anytime to check the water quality. This program already exists, said Fox.
Weve made mistakes in the past, 10 or 12 years ago. As an industry we spent $50 million elevating waste management systems.... Were the best in the maritime business, said Fox.
By a long shot, added Craig Milan, president for Royal Celebrity Tours.
They currently follow what they call the ABC Policy. It stands for Above and Beyond Compliance with environmental standards.
It makes sense for us to do better, said Hanrahan, who says they consistently beat the standards.
But their sense of better doesnt appease the drafters of the measure. They are the least regulated dischargers in the state of Alaska, said Cohen, adding, By a mile.
Cohen wants to see outside and independent confirmation that the ships are complying with the standards. These are people that have been convicted on felony charges in recent years for dumping, he said.
Authorizing citizen lawsuits against owners and operators of large cruise ships or against the DEC would offer another way to put independent eyes and ears at work.
The citizen who authorizes the lawsuit stands to get 25 percent to 50 percent of the suit.
This would encourage lawyers to come to Alaska from around the country to attack the cruise industry, the executives said. Talk about a way to clog up the courts, added Hanrahan.
A similar law applies to other dischargers in Alaska, said Cohen, adding, and they dont have salivating attorneys chasing after them.
An example of the application of this portion is a fisherman who witnesses a dumping incident and calls the Coast Guard to report it.
Theyre not going to be running around in skiffs with test tubes, said Cohen. He qualified that a percentage of the fine isnt guaranteed to the citizen, it goes to them only if the courts bestow it.
Another topic on the measure that has people talking is a business partnership disclosure.
In 1994 legislation was passed requiring cruise lines to disclose promotions. Measure Two asks cruise lines to tell their passengers the percentage commission they receive from the tour operators and shops they advocate in contrasting colors and in a 14-point font.
Theyre asking us to give confidential net rates, said Butzlaff, who predicted it would be held up in court and it would be the lawyers who would benefit, not the communities.
This wouldnt require local vendors to disclose information, but the Miami-based cruise lines, Geldhof emphasized. Furthermore, Cohen elaborated that its not intimate business details theyd need to broadcast, but the overall percentage commission they receive from the operators.
The rhetoric from the cruise lines is that businesses have to reveal their pricing structure, said Cohen, No one has to report anything but the cruise lines, and thats just their commission.
But many argue that disclosing their commission would reveal their pricing structure.
The cruise executives called this portion of the measure un-American. Nobodys got any business knowing what our deal is, said Milan, Including our competitors.
Tour prices would be driven down to the lowest common denominator, said Hanrahan, driving down profitability for the tour operators. We would not stand to pay more than Princess does, just as Holland America would not stand to pay more than we would.
Oftentimes, however, in lines of business varying rates are the norm.
Everyone knows that contractors get a better price than Joe Schmoe at a hardware store, theyll tell you, said Cohen, Its no big deal.
Cohen said people on the ships should be able to make their own decisions. The businesses that cant afford to pay the percent commission on sales arent getting any business.
Its Diamonds International, Venetian Gemstone Showroom, and other chain stores getting the lions share of the profits, said Cohen. The cruise lines have very close ties with, if not outright ownership of, many of these stores, he alleged. Guess where they tell you where to shop, said Cohen, the local people are getting the short end of the stick.
On the last page of the booklets cruise ships hand out to their passengers, they mention that the stores listed are paid advertisers. They also fall under a guarantee where if a merchandise problem arises, the cruise lines contact the store on the passengers behalf.
We clearly tell people that were getting a commission, or we do this because these people do business with us, said Fox. They make sure the tours meet safety requirements and insurance are up to date. We dont just go out and grab any tour operator, said Hanrahan of the tours they sell.
Cruise passengers take this into consideration when making their decision.
Janice Walker, a retired telecommunications manager from Teaneck, NJ stopped off in Skagway last week during her seven-day Island Princess cruise. When choosing where to buy her tour from, Walker considered the fact that if taking a Princess tour the boat would wait for her at the end of the day if it ran late. Shed also be covered on the insurance, and that the safety standards would be reputable. If you just pick someone out on your own, you dont know, said Walker.
When passengers are away from port and tour opportunities, many spend their time and money in the casinos on board. Measure Two would levy a tax on casino gambling activities in state waters.
Casino gambling is not legal in the state of Alaska, said Milan who said they dont operate in state waters.
Cohen said that gambling on boats in Alaska is not illegal, as long as they are not at port.
They have been gambling in Alaska state waters, said Geldhof, who pointed out that the nature of the Inside Passage leads ships to spend days in Alaska waters. Why should 100 percent of gambling profits go back to Miami? he asked.
Beyond the individual issues each facet of the measure brings, many are concerned that Measure Two brings about over-regulation and over-taxation.
Fox made the analogy that truck drivers dont get taxed for every state they drive through; if they did, then they wouldnt be able to afford doing business.
At the end of the day, its a situation where were going to look at all of this and say, what are we doing here? What are we doing in the state of Alaska? said Hanrahan.
In making deployment decisions, Milan said they look at the economics of each of the route. If the economics of Alaska as a result of this increased cost go negative, well look at other options for ship deployments, he said.
In other words, the argument that the cruise ships will never leave Alaska can only stand for so long.
While cruise lines do make much money in the state, Over time if that profitability starts to erode there are other places in the world we may be able to make more money, said Milan, and the decision will be made to take the ships there instead.
The cruise executives dont claim to be loved by everybody.
We know theres a few people out there that are anti-cruise, we understand that, said Hanrahan, and added, all the people that deal with us like us and are happy with us.
The world is watching, said Cohen.
The last thing that cruise ships want is for Alaskan voters to tell them what they can do, said Cohen. The issue is about control. Passage of this measure sends the message, Its fine if you come, welcome, but were going to set the rules, not you, on water quality and taxes, said Cohen.
He has received calls from Belize, Mexico, Costa Rica, and London. They are watching from all over the world, saying, my gosh, if Alaska could do this, then we could too, Cohen said, adding, Thats why theyre so afraid of this.
The day of truth will come Aug. 22.
Helicopter rotor hits tree, TEMSCO craft rolls to side, no serious injuries
By EMILY A. PALM
A TEMSCO helicopter rolled to its side while landing at Glacier Station on Thursday, July 27. No one was seriously injured.
The pilot, whose name has not been released, had four tourists and a guide on board for a Packer Expeditions tour. As the craft was settling down to the ground, its main rotor hit a tree, causing it to roll onto its side, said Scott Erickson, air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Skagway EMTs met the group at the TEMSCO hangar and transported them to the Dahl Memorial Clinic, said Fire Chief Mark Kirko, who called the injuries more than moderate.
The tourists were off the ships Sun Princess and Norwegian Wind, said Tim Bourcy, owner of Packer Expeditions.
One tourist required a medical evacuation to Bartlett Regional Hospital for a gash at eye level, said Tim McDonnell, TEMSCO vice president of tours and marketing in Juneau. He said the woman was released the same day.
Packer guide Robert McCracken broke a bone in his hand and visited the Juneau hospital as well, Bourcy said.
The FAA and NTSB were called and arrived at Glacier Station to examine the site and helicopter. TEMSCO ceased operations for the rest of the day to review the incident. McDonnell said they reviewed all the information and discussed how to overcome what happened.
After an incident, McDonnell said they do not fly the helicopter involved afterwards regardless of the severity of damage. The craft was transported from the scene and is currently being examined by the NTSB.
It generally takes about six months to complete investigations, said McDonnell, adding that the report will say what and why it happened, and dont do that again.
Filing deadline nears for municipal election
As of Aug. 9 at 4 p.m., two incumbents had filed for seats in the Oct. 3 municipal election.
Incumbent City Councilman and Vice Mayor David Hunz and School Board Vice President Darren Belisle had filed their candidacy papers at City Hall.
Two other seats currently held by City Councilmember Lisa L.C. Cassidy and School Board Member Chris Maggio are also up for election. All seats are for the full three-year terms.
Deadline for filing to be on the Oct. 3 ballot is Monday, Aug. 14 at 5 p.m..
CITY: Sales tax hike proposed; groceries would be eliminated
At its Aug. 3 meeting, Skagway City Council members passed first reading, 5-1, of an ordinance to raise sales tax in order to stimulate public comment.
If it passes another reading, the proposition on the ballot this October would pose the question, Should the rate of sales tax collected upon sales made and services rendered in Skagway be increased from 4% to 5% with a tax exemption for groceries and household appliances?
Were not trying to build an empire here, said Councilman Dave Hunz, who voted against the first reading because Skagway hasnt demonstrated a need for an increase in sales tax.
With the recent passage of a hold-the-line budget, Councilman Dan Henry said he sees a need to fix, develop and improve upon infrastructure for the visitor industry. I see a myriad of things addressing the need situation, he said of the proposed increase.
I would really like to hear what the community has to say about this, said Councilmember Lisa Cassidy.
The ordinance is up for second reading on Aug. 17.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
THERE ONCE WAS A SALMON WHO SWALLOWED A SQUID...
This squid came from the mouth of this salmon, and five more were found in the fishs stomach. Read all about the first weekend of the Pat Moore Memorial Game Fish Derby in the Sports & Rec. report. Emily Palm photo
SPORTS & REC: Hambones back on top of Skagway Sofball League; Pat Moore Memorial Game Fish Derby off to windy start
SKAGWAY NEWS OPINION: Initiative Overkill
THRILL RIDE: Along the WP&YR with a motorcar club
HEARD ON THE WIND: Dock wildlife patrols and more...
To read all the stories in the News, including complete city and school digests, letters and commentary, police and court reports, and view our many advertisers for Skagway products and services, you must subscribe to the real thing. Out of town subscriptions cost $35 per year for second class mail, $45 for first class mail. Send a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 or call us at 907-983-2354 with a credit card number.