SWIMMING START

Steve Vick looks back at Skagway well-wishers on Aug. 1 as he begins his “Lynn Swim” to Juneau. Vick finished the swim on Aug. 10. See story in headlines below. Casey Grove

No road from Skagway

Preferred Juneau Access terminus switched to Katzehin after federal 4(f) ruling this week

By JEFF BRADY
If a road is built up Lynn Canal, it will not end in Skagway.
The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Wednesday announced that it has changed its preferred alternative for the Juneau Access project.
The preferred alternative identified in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would have constructed a highway all the way into Skagway from the current end of the Glacier Highway at Echo Cove, 40 miles northwest of Juneau. The new preferred alternative, designated “2B,” would terminate the highway north of the Katzehin River. From there, shuttle ferries would provide connections to the road system.
The terminus of the project has been changed from Skagway because actions by National Park Service (NPS) officials at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park have resulted in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) having no choice but to consider lands surrounding Skagway as Section 4(f) lands, according to a DOT press release.
FHWA regulations do not allow federal funds to be used to build highway projects in 4(f) areas when there is a feasible and prudent alternative. Section 4(f) lands include significant public parks, recreation areas, wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites.
“The NPS has taken the position that all undeveloped areas within the Skagway and White Pass National Historic Landmark, including previously disturbed locations, are contributing elements of the landmark. Based on the NPS position, the FHWA believes that construction of roads on those lands would be subject to 4(f). This has pretty much eliminated the possibility of constructing the Juneau Access project in that corridor,” said DOT Commissioner Mike Barton. “One of our objectives with this project was to reduce the cost to the average person traveling from upper Lynn Canal to Juneau and vice versa, and we hoped to do this by reducing or eliminating the burden, cost and time commitment of taking a ferry. By extending the highway to a ferry terminal north of the Katzehin River, we can still benefit the traveling public by using lower cost day boats, operating as short shuttles.”
Barton said the decision to change to another preferred alternative does not impact the timeline for construction of the project, nor does it require a new round of public comment on the supplemental environmental impact statement.
“The EIS process has been on-going for the past two years, and ‘2B’ is an alternative that has been fully evaluated throughout that process,” he said. “As such, the decision to designate ‘2B’ as the new preferred alternative will not require an extension of the EIS process or a delay in the timeline to construction.”
Project director Reuben Yost called the News Wednesday to say that the decision by FHWA means there will be no further meetings in Skagway on the approach into town.
He said the FHWA decision took into account changes in the Skagway Historic Landmark made in 1999 and likened it to Gettysburg being surrounded by trees versus buildings. He said the only trnsportation project that has passed the 4(f) test was the Pat Moore Bridge.
When asked if he was disappointed, Yost replied that “it’s not for me to say” but the FHWA ruling is final. “The primary thinking (at DOT) is that 4(f) is a hard hill to get over,” Yost said.
Mayor Tim Bourcy just heard about it when the News called Wednesday afternoon.
“Wow, I have to let that sink in,” he said. “I didn’t think that would actually happen but I’m pretty excited about it, actually.
“One of major concerns beyond Lower Lake was the aligmnnet coming into town and traffic patterns. Many other issues would have been devastating to Skagway. It’s definitely in the best interest of the community.”

Protest swim from Skagway to Juneau a safe success

Steve Vick covers 92 miles in nine days

By CASEY GROVE
A cheer went up from the crowd of about 40 people when Steve Vick stepped into the choppy green water of Taiya Inlet on Aug. 1. He would arrive in Juneau to great fanfare on Aug. 10.
Two and three-foot waves powered by a brisk southerly wind crashed on his legs at the start in Skagway, and Vick paused to splash some water in his face and over his yellow smiley-face swim cap before diving into his 92-mile swim to Juneau.
“I try not to really think about how far I’m going, because it’s just overwhelming,” Vick said, just before donning his wetsuit. “I just have to take it moment by moment, literally stroke by stroke. But I’m ready, I know my body’s ready.”
After entering the water, Vick looked back at the crowd one last time and then turned into the wind and started paddling south with a kayaker nearby for support.
The 35-year-old Haines swim coach admits that protesting the proposed Juneau access road by swimming North America’s longest glacial fiord is a somewhat drastic move–crazy is how some have described it–but clearly he thinks it is worth the trouble.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that I have to go to these kind of extremes to get the message out,” Vick said. “People are tired of not being heard, of being strong-armed.”
“In the end, for a lot of people, it just comes down to a different philosophy on life,” Vick said. “Just because you have more growth, more people, doesn’t mean you’re progressing.”
Helicopters flew overhead, loading and unloading passengers. Tourists walked down the gangway from a nearby cruise ship as buses picked them up for tours. Most seemed oblivious to the epic journey that was about to get underway, but occasionally a stray visitor would walk over to the growing group of Vick’s well-wishers, catching their attention, and they would ask, “What’s going on over here?”
Someone would explain, and the tourist would inevitably end up joining the crowd to watch Vick leave.
One woman paying close attention to the swimmer was Earleen Lloyd, a registered EMT who traveled onboard the support boat where Vick would eat and sleep.

Steve Vick rubs his cold hands after swimming into a big welcome in Haines . Chilkat Valley News photo

“I think basically sleep deprivation could be a problem,” Lloyd said. “It may be that we just have to take the time to get the tides and the sleep we need.” Lloyd also added hypothermia, water hypnosis and other psychological issues to the list of potential problems. She will be monitoring Vick’s body temperature regularly to ensure his safety.
“If it’s just normal ocean water, not glacial melt, I do pretty good,” Vick said earlier in Skagway. When he slows down his swimming through glacial melt, his lips sometimes turn blue and his extremities start to get numb and tingly. “If I stop, then the cold water gets into the wetsuit.”
“We’re just hoping that there are no accidents,” Lloyd said. “For me, it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out in the end.”
The story unfolded day-by-day on the Lynn Swim web site (www.lynnswim.org) and through daily radio updates on KHNS.
After leaving Skagway at 1:15 p.m. Aug. 1, Vick swam eight miles down the western side of Taiya Inlet and stopped for the night at Taiyasanka Harbor at about 6 p.m. The water temperature for that leg averaged 53 degrees. The rough water did not seem to slow him down, says the web log report, but at one point caused him to swallow some sea water, making him nauseous and unable to eat snacks provided by the kayak-based support crew. But by the end of the day, Vick was able to eat a big meal.
The crew awoke early the next day so Vick could swim with the outgoing tide. He swam about seven miles from near Taiyasanka Harbor to Nukdik Point in Haines, arriving at about 9 a.m. In Haines, the team was able to gather some last-minute supplies and enjoy a barbecue provided by local businesses with the more than 120 Haines residents in attendance.
Vick left Haines that afternoon, swimming to an overnight spot just south of Battery Point. After leaving that evening, Vick covered five and three quarters miles, with a 1.38-mile stretch through frigid, 42-degree water. The cold water came from the glacier-fed Katzehin River, and Vick decided to sprint through the area, covering the distance in about 24 minutes.
From there, over the next few days, he swam down to Sullivan Island, traversed Lynn Canal to Point Sherman, crossed Berners Bay, and actually had to slow down during this week’s heat wave to meet up with a planned event on Aug. 10.
According to his Website, Vick finished the swim at about 6:30 p.m.Wednesday at Auke Recreation area just north of the Juneau ferry terminal, and the entire crew enjoyed a celebratory barbecue with friends and supporters.

Canadian mining co. interested in ore terminal for coal shipments

By CASEY GROVE
Coal from the Yukon might be shipped out of Skagway starting as soon as 2007, bringing back to life the Skagway Ore Terminal and creating year-round jobs in a town with fewer than 870 winter residents.
Toronto-based Cash Minerals Ltd. wants to extract and transport 1.2 million metric tons of coal from Canada’s Yukon Territory by trucking it about 180 miles to tidewater at Skagway. Conveyor belts at the ore terminal would then load the coal onto ships bound for Asian markets.
“Coal is relatively inexpensive. It’s very sensitive to location, to get it out on a boat,” said Basil Botha, President and CEO of Cash Minerals. “That’s why we’re so attracted to Skagway.” By shipping coal out of Skagway, Botha said, the company would have a three-day advantage for shipping to Pacific Rim countries over boats based on the West Coast.
“This is good, shuttered jobs in the winter time,” said Mike Catsi, Executive Director of the Skagway Development Corporation. Five to ten year-round positions are expected to be available at the ore terminal, depending on the type of operation undertaken by Cash Minerals, and local longshoremen would see more work with the added shipping activity. Catsi also noted the extra revenue generated by truckers spending money at Skagway businesses. Cash Minerals says there could be as many as 70 trucks passing through each day.
“I’ve been in mining my whole life,” Botha said. “I’ve seen the good times and the bad times. I see the good times starting to return.”
“There’s a worldwide shortage of metals, of coal,” he said. “You have two emerging economies, China and India.”
China’s demand for raw materials has caused coal prices to increase by 70 percent in the last two years, and this makes developing the Division Mountain Coal Project, near Braeburn, Yukon a very lucrative business prospect. The Skagway Ore Terminal is perfectly located to help move the millions of tons of coal that studies indicate are located at Division Mountain.
The ore terminal, built in 1968, has been inactive since 1997 when zinc prices dropped and mines near Faro, Yukon closed. Now, booming economies in Asia require more raw materials, namely coal, for power generation and steel mill operations. Those industries, among others, need to be satisfied, Botha said.
“That’s our focus. Pacific Rim,” Botha said.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority recently agreed to spend up to $50,000, to be repaid by Cash Minerals, on a study to determine the feasibility of the project and to conduct an appraisal of the 37-year-old ore terminal facility.
Cash Minerals expects to know the results of the feasibility study by the end of September. The study, contracted to Norwest Corporation of Salt Lake City, Utah, will examine costs of upgrades to the terminal, the economic feasibility of storing and shipping coal there, and Cash Minerals itself.
The Skagway Ore Terminal would see upgrades to its conveyor system for faster loading of ships. Currently, the loading rate is approximately 1,000 metric tons per hour, and with higher revolution motors and upgrades to the conveyor belts, the loading rate would increase to about 2,000 metric tons per hour.
“This will give us the ability to load 80,000-ton ships in under two days,” said Bill Clarke, Chairman for Cash Minerals, in a press release by the company.
Other upgrades needed include constructing a materials handling system and adding equipment for unloading trucks. A new storage building would also be constructed, as most of the old metal building was demolished by AIDEA in 2003 because of structural corrosion.
“It’s an idle asset, the Skagway Ore Terminal, and we would like to see it operational again,” said Becky Gay, a project manager for AIDEA.
If the project is deemed feasible, and the results of the study are agreed upon by AIDEA, the state agency would provide the financial backing needed by Cash Minerals to move forward.
“Just think of us as a bank,” said John Wood, also a project manager for AIDEA. “We loan you money, you have to pay it back with interest.”
“That fulfills AIDEA’s mission, to make people happy and make a little money,” Wood said.
AIDEA bought the ore terminal from White Pass & Yukon Route in July 1990, with a sublease of city property approved by the City of Skagway.

Engine 69 back on WP&YR tracks

White Pass workers get the engine on track after it arrives in Skagway on July 28. CG

Big steam engine makes triumphant return to Skagway

By CASEY GROVE
The largest steam engine ever built for the White Pass & Yukon Route recently made its return to the historic railway.
Engine 69 arrived by barge in the early morning of July 28. It was carefully rolled onto the tracks at the Railroad Dock later that evening and towed by a diesel locomotive to the White Pass shops. A crew from Wisconsin is currently putting the finishing touches on the 98-year-old engine.
“I think it’s pretty interesting, because you don’t often get a chance to do that, bring one back to where it got its start,” said Steven Butler of North Lake, Wisconsin-based Midwest Locomotive and Machine Works.
“She should be fired up by the middle of the month,” said White Pass Vice President Michael Brandt in an Aug. 8 interview. If all goes well, it will be the first time Engine 69 has steamed up the WP&YR rails in more than 50 years.
The 134,369-pound steam engine was constructed in 1908 by Baldwin Locomotive Works Co. in Philadelphia. After it was delivered to Skagway by a freighter ship from Seattle later that year, Engine 69 spent the next 46 years helping other locomotives push or pull cars over the mountains between Skagway and Bennett, B. C.
The 69 survived a fire in February 1932 that destroyed the wooden WP&YR roundhouse, and after some repairs, it was returned to service later that year.
In 1954, with diesel engines starting to take over the narrow-gauge rails, Engine 69 was retired and sat for two years in Skagway before being sold to a Chicago train enthusiast who wanted to use the massive steam engine to pull tourists over the Black Hills of South Dakota. Renamed “Klondike Casey,” the engine operated there until 1964.
Eight years later, Engine 69 was bought by a North Platte, Nebraska entrepreneur for use in another tourist railway, which failed because of a right-of-way dispute. It ended up at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer south of Grand Island, Nebraska, where it pulled visitors as a working example of a steam engine.
WP&YR found Engine 69 at the Stuhr Museum and made a trade to bring the largest locomotive to steam up White Pass back to its original home.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

PLUGGING IN –Scott Logan plugs in the new electric maintenance van used by the National Park Service. See story in online features below. Ardyce Czuchna-Curl

ONLINE FEATURES THIS ISSUE:

• PLUGGING IN: NPS procures electric van for Klondike Park

• FISH & FLOWERS WEEKEND: Pat Moore Derby, Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP - Softball finale sees sunny skies, RBI repeat; Skagway runners take divisions at Yukon River Trail Marathon; Doland girls win ribbons at horse show

HEARD ON THE WIND: Fish tales, wooden brains, 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.