Ground for the new Edward A. and Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center is officially broken by eight golden shovelers on Aug. 12. From left are Mayor Tom Cochran, Rasmuson Foundation Chair Ed Rasmuson, Clinic President John Warder, Dahl Clinic ANP Lynne Cameron, Rep. Bill Thomas, George Cannelos and Denali Daniels of the Denali Commission, and Rasmuson Foundation President Diane Kaplan. See story and more photos in features below.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Skagway still a possible port for gas pipeline movement
State: No decisions yet
By MOLLY DISCHNER
The port of Skagway is still a possibility for moving pipeline construction materials, but early analyses detailed the advantages of having material transported through Haines.
Skagway Mayor Tom Cochran wrote a letter to Gov. Sarah Palin and Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie encouraging them to consider using the Yukon Port of Skagway during the construction of the new gas pipeline.
As of this issues Aug. 12 deadline, Palin had not responded to the municipalitys letter, which was dated July 24.
Cochran sent the letter because we were informed that none of the commercial players were considering Skagway as a port for moving materials.
One response, a letter not directed specifically to the borough, detailed the advantages of moving material through Haines in a Department of Transporation briefing.
Below is a discussion of the information the department considered and why it reasons gas pipeline freight will be shipped through Haines, the document said.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, who also received a copy of Cochrans letter, sent the borough a copy of a July 30 letter from the Alaska Department of Transportation to Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. Attached was that briefing entitled Why use Haines vs. Skagway as the point of entry for construction of the natural gas pipeline.
But Jeff Ottesen, the DOTs director of program development, said no decisions had been made.
Skagway is definitely in the running for transporting materials while the pipeline is constructed, Ottesen said in a phone interview last week.
There are several hundred miles of the pipeline that are best served by a Northern Lynn Canal port, he said.
Ottesen said the decision on whether to use Skagway or Haines would depend on a number of factors, including input from the pipelines builders, but Skagway has a shot at being chosen.
TransCanada representatives were not available to comment.
DOT spokesperson Roger Wetherell agreed that a final decision had not been made. The briefing sent to the senators looked at reasons for choosing Haines, but didnt reflect an actual decision, he said.
Skagway has the better port, Ottesen said, adding that Haines may be less congested. Highway grades will also be a factor, as materials will be transported by truck from either port to the pipeline construction sites.
The document sent to the senators says that Haines has the better highway grade, and Skagway is too busy for the added traffic. It also notes that the Haines Highway has more substandard road, and those have to be upgraded regardless of whether or not the Haines port is chosen.
Wetherell said those advantages are significant, and they are in the process of a cost estimate study.
White Pass & Yukon Routes Gary Danielson said the railroad, which also owns most of the docks, would also be writing a letter in support of the Yukon Port of Skagway.
We would support anything coming through during the time-frame that were available, Danielson said.
Cochrans letter also mentioned the possibility of a pipeline to Skagway to provide Southeast Alaska with natural gas.
Ottesen said he thought a line to Southeast was a good idea, but he didnt know where any lines would end up. His focus was on the logistics of constructing the pipeline.
The other letter didnt mention that possibility.
The state is trying to understand the logistics of the pipeline, but the builders have not been forthcoming helping them get the information they want, Ottesen said. No decisions can be without their input.
Even with the builders input, Ottesen said decisions wont be made soon. DOT is having a conference about pipeline infrastructure in the fall, and decisions most likely wont happen until after the event, he said.
[The conference] is to get as many facts on the table as we can, said Ottesen.
Potential ports, and all relevant boroughs and leaders from around the state and the Yukon will be invited, he said. Representatives from the pipeline side of things will also be included.
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, who also received the letter, said it would help the state know Skagway was ready to be part of the pipeline, and he supported the letter, and the idea of Skagway being part of the project.
Palin got the official go-ahead to sign the license from the legislature during the recent special session. After she signs, there is a 90-day period for either party to change their minds.
The proposed pipeline would bring gas from the North Slope through Alaska, the Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada to U.S. markets, with gas expected to flow in late 2018. Construction would begin sometime after engineering and permitting was completed, which is targeted for 2014. Ottesen said the exact route of the pipeline is still up in the air, although some stretches such as the road from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks are a given.
Alaska will provide up to about $500 million to help TransCanada with the license.
Wings flying at capacity after L.A.B. grounded by FAA
By MOLLY DISCHNER
Regional airline Wings of Alaska is flying at capacity after competitor L.A.B. Flying Service was grounded recently by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Weve got our planes going non-stop, said Mike Stedman, Wings director of operations.
The FAA issued an emergency revocation of Haines-based L.A.B Flying Services certificate on July 24. L.A.B. appealed the same day with a petition challenging the emergency revocation, said FAA senior attorney Glenn Brown. But the resulting settlement between L.A.B and the FAA didnt change the revocation. It just prevented the FAA from seeking civil penalties, said Brown.
The emergency revocation order included seven counts against the airline.
The charges regarding operations included operating aircraft that were not airworthy, operating in violation of the operating certificate, and operating in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. Other violations included failing to keep proper records of maintenance and pilots flights, failing to report necessary incidents, and failing to perform the appropriate maintenance and inspections.
There also was a section on other matters reflecting qualifications that listed past violations, accidents, and other maintenance failures not accounted for in the general or specific allegations.
Before the revocation, L.A.B carried passengers and freight to Skagway daily. But now theyre out of service for at least a year, Brown said.
While L.A.B. is on the ground, other airlines are picking up the slack.
Juneau-based Wings of Alaska has more passengers and freight on its Skagway runs and most of their operations are in Southeast.
Exact figures on the increases in passengers and freight werent available, but Stedman said it was a significant amount.
Some days, he said, they were adding two or three flights to Skagway in addition to their regularly scheduled six, he said.
For now, Wings is operating with their regular schedule, but trying to accommodate extra demand and add flights where possible.
When people call looking for seats, we juggle things around to try and accommodate everybody, he said.
The increases push Wings to capacity. Flights and schedules are full, Stedman said.
Were right at capacity with all the mail freight, he said. We bump the freight to accommodate the passengers, and try not to bump anyone, he said.
Wings will operate as-is for the rest of the season, Stedman said. But the airline is looking at expanding next year. Any new planes and pilots would most likely be used next spring and summer, he said, although theyre also considering purchasing a Cessna Caravan sometime sooner.
Gustavus-based charter airline Air Excursions has taken a similar approach: fill their planes, and survive the busy season.
Since the shut-down, manager Marion Farley said Air Excursions has been flying to Skagway several times a day, but has seen a bigger increase in passengers to Haines.
As a charter service, Air Excursions cant carry mail, and doesnt have scheduled service to Skagway. But individual passengers traveling to the same destination are grouped together to make a charter flight.
We are picking up some passengers, Farley said.
Like Wings, Air Excursions hadnt decided what its long-term response would be. For now, Farley said they were trying to survive the busy month. Over the next few months, the owner will consider expanding service and adding offices.
Although the grounding is just for a year, Wings and Air Excursions late changes wont be too late. The terms of the revocation prevent L.A.B. from applying operate during that year, so itll be more than a year before theyre in the air again, Brown said.
Brown didnt know how long it would take for an application to be reviewed, but reviewing new applications and getting new carriers going is not a high priority for the agency, he said, adding that overseeing operating carriers is a much higher priority.
L.A.B will essentially be a new airline with a new application.
Brown said a new corporation could apply to provide air-service to Southeast Alaska. That applications review would also take time, but it would get started before L.A.Bs year is up.
That doesnt mean L.A.B can expect to reapply with a few tweaks.
The FAA probably wont accept an application if the name is deceptively similar to L.A.B, Brown said. The agency also has a provision in their regulations that would allow them to deny letting the same individuals operate a new company, he added.
Thats all something for further deliberation, he said. But the authority for doing that is in our regulations.
As of Aug. 4, there were no new applications, Brown said. He added that if applicants know what theyre doing, it would take a few weeks to put one together. The first step would be forming a new corporation in the state of Alaska.
Brown said the FAAs settlement agreement not to seek civil penalties wont hurt the agency.
We agreed in writing not to do what we most likely wouldnt have done anyway, Brown said.
The FAA gave up the potential to collect a maximum of $150,000, but they most likely would not have collected any of that money, he said.
In my 18 years with the agency, Ive never known of a case where we revoked a carrier and then turned around and collected civil penalties, said Brown.
Civil penalties are meant to be a deterrent from breaking the rules, he said. Once a carriers certificate is revoked, the deterrent is no longer is necessary.
Aug. 26 Primary Election Preview
Thomas, June unopposed; Kookesh awaits Nov. challenger
By MOLLY DISCHNER
Opposing candidates dont always take the same position on big issues. But there are two things all four candidates running to represent Skagway (and other communities in Southeast) in the Legislature agree on.
The first? Energy is a priority. They have a range of plans on this from opening Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to increasing the hydroelectric plants in Southeast but Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, summed it up for all of them.
I think we need energy, cheap energy, in Alaska, Thomas said.
And the other? A road to Juneau isnt worth building, they said. Theyd rather see the money go toward the ferry system. It serves more communities, and as Thomas fall challenger Tim June, a Democrat from Haines, pointed out, as the cost of oil rises, Alaska needs to build infrastructure for water and rail transit. Not roads.
Thomas was doubtful it could be built. Sen. Al Kookesh, D-Angoon, noted that it would not serve all of his constituents.
None of the candidates face opposition from within their respective parties in the primary. One wont even appear on a primary ballot.
June is challenging Thomas for his seat in the house for the second time. In 2004, he lost by 59 votes, he said. But he thinks Southeast might vote differently this November.
Alaska is in the middle of the worst corruption scandal in state history, June said. Rep. Thomas is part of the republican majority that is deeply embroiled in that scandal. Its time for a change for new and ethical leadership in the state Legislature.
While he hasnt served in the legislature, June said he had other political experience that qualified him for the job. Those include acting as a policy advisor for former Gov. Tony Knowles, serving on the state board of forestry, and working with multiple governors on water quality and cruise ship issues. He was also served on the Haines Borough Assembly and the Haines school board.
Thomas cited his experience and accomplishments so far as a reason to run again.
For Skagway, those accomplishments include $2.6 million for projects in 2008. The money went towards the Skagway Seawalk Intermodal Cruise Ship access, the Skagway Booster Station, and the West Creek Bridge.
Helping the communities he serves with the projects is one of Thomas priorities.
Thomas other major accomplishment in 2008 was a renewable energy bill that he co-sponsored. The bill funds $50 million in renewable energy projects for the next five years.
In addition to funding renewable energy projects, Thomas supported the summer effort to give Alaskans a check to help pay for this years more expensive fuel costs. He sponsored a similar bill in the regular session, but it was voted down.
Thomas voted for the TransCanada plan, and supports Skagways efforts to have the Yukon Port of Skagway be part of the project. He also wants to help more Southeast communities get hydropower.
June focused on other sources of energy. His plan would maximize revenues on non-renewable resources, and use that money to provide infrastructure for renewable energy projects. Those projects could include alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower, as well as public transportation and the ferry system.
I think the state needs to fight and to have legislators wholl fight to have a maximum return on oil and gas revenues to the state treasury, he said.
June also wants to see the state return money to local communities. His priority for revenues such as the fish tax and passenger fee were to use the money for infrastructure like docks and harbors, and return it to the local communities it came from.
I think the state has an obligation to give back to local communities so they can pay for police and schools and recreation programs, he said.
The two had another similarity: neither is campaigning just yet.
Thomas is a commercial fisherman. Between the summers special sessions, and making his living on the water, he doesnt have time to campaign right now.
June, who used to be a commercial fisherman but now has a woodworking shop, is busy too. Hes chair of the clean elections campaign, and has been jetting back and forth between Anchorage and Haines all summer, along with a few other trips around the state.
Skagways other voice in Juneau, Kookesh, is the only candidate for District C on a primary ballot. But in November hell face an unaffiliated candidate from Hoonah who filed a nominating petition and was certified July 25, Rory Schneeberger. Kookesh said his decision to run again was simple.
Im the incumbent and Ive done very well, and I dont think Im ready to retire yet, he said. He added that he was in good health, his wife was supportive, and he hasnt been indicted.
Schneeberger, a former legislative aide and volunteer legislative analyst and liaison, said she is running because of issues she thought were underrepresented: hard work, preparation, and ethics. She also wants to limit government.
Less government is more, she said. Free yourself up.
Whether she was talking about the Juneau road or energy, she wanted to see a vote of the people.
I want to get those issues back to the people, she said.
Kookesh wants spur lines to Alaska included with a new pipeline.
I really would like to see us take care of Alaska before we take care of the lower 48, but at the same time, we have so much gas we can do both, he said.
He also wanted to see power-cost equalization continue to grow, and more money spent on alternative energy. One idea he supported was an inter-tie connecting the hydroelectric projects in Southeast.
Thatd be a plus for everyone in Southeast Alaska, he said. Itd be really nice to put all those projects on an inter-tie.
Schneeberger focused on opening ANWR.
Kookesh said his accomplishments include an education equalization plan being implemented in multiple stages, increasing the endowment for power cost equalization, and funding capital projects.
The education equalization sets the base cost of education as Anchorage, Kookesh said. If it takes $1 to educate a child in Anchorage, and $1.50 to educate a child in Angoon, the state pays Angoon the difference.
Rural Alaskans would get the real cost of educating a child, he said.
The two had one other similarity: writing legislation is not a priority.
My other goal has been not so much in legislation, but in getting capital projects into my communities, said Kookesh.
Kookesh added that although he didnt draft legislation very often, it was important to support good ideas and stop ones he didnt think were beneficial to his constituents.
Schneeberger favors limiting bills for all senators.
My first bill, and probably my only one, would be to limit the number of bills legislators can put in, she said.
By limiting the number of bills, Schneeberger said she hoped to limit what the legislature can do.
Campaign funding was another important issue for Schneeberger. She didnt believe candidates should receive any money for their campaigns, and is not collecting donations for her campaign. She is funding it with her own money, she said.
Her campaign included a visit to Skagway on Aug. 11.
The senator wasnt sure if hed make it to Skagway as part of his campaign.
In this special session process, I cant do any campaigning or planning, Kookesh said, adding that he serves 129 communities, so he needed to start traveling in May to visit them all.
Unlike their counterparts in the state Legislature, those in Congress have opposition for their partys nomination.
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens will face Republican primary opposition from Michael Corey, David Cuddy, Vic Vickers, and Rich Wanda, all of Anchorage, as well as Rick Sikma, of North Pole, and Jerry Heikes, of Palmer.
Democratic candidates for Stevens seat are Frank Vondersaar, of Homer, and Anchorages Ray Metcalfe and Mayor Mark Begich. The independent candidates are Alaskan Independence party member Bob Bird, of Kenai, and libertarian David Haase, of Anchorage.
U.S. Rep. Don Young has two challengers in the Republican primary, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Gabrielle LeDoux, both of Anchorage. Diane Benson and former State Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, also both of Anchorage, are vying for the democratic nomination. Don Wright from the Alaskan Independence party will also appear on the primary ballot.
The August ballot will also feature four ballot measures.
Measure Four would prevent large mines from being developed if they will release toxins into water or store them nearby. The measure regulates future mines impact on water quality, but both critics and supporters focus on the impact to mining.
The measure would stop Pebble Mine, in the Bristol Bay area, from being developed without significant changes to their operating plans, but current mines would not be required to change their practices.
That grandfather clause allowing existing mines to operate as is would only apply to existing facilities, not any added after the law went into affect, said Renée Limoge, communications director for Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown.
Bruce Switzer from Alaskans for Clean Water, proponents of the measure, said the measure was designed to prevent Pebble Mine. Switzer said most mines follow the guidelines set in the measure, so other new mines can still be developed in Alaska if the measure passes, as long as they operate in a way that is safe for salmon and human health.
Switzer noted that the measure is similar to a law repealed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Limoge said the language of the measure is vague, and the exact ramifications would probably require a court battle before anything happened. She also said AAMS thinks water quality is better monitored by state agencies and legislation than ballot measures.
Limoge said Greens Creek Mine near Juneau is one site where the law might impact a new facility at an existing mine.
They are involved because they are concerned about the litigation that will come if Ballot Measure 4 passes, she said. The state is already acknowledging that there will be litigation.
Measure One is an initiative to create a seven-member Alaska Gaming Commission responsible for regulating gaming in Alaska, according to the initiative filed with the Division of Elections. The commission would have the power to expand gaming in Alaska, and would be responsible for enforcing current laws.
Measure Two would change a rule prohibiting an individual from shooting wolves on the same day the individual was airborne on a non-commercial flight. The changes would add grizzly bears to those protected, and create a provision for the Department of fish and game to be exempt from the rule in emergency situations.
The measure defines an emergency as a situation where a wolf or grizzly bear population is depleting a prey population to the extent that the prey population might not recover naturally.
Measure Three is a bill altering the elections process to provide candidates with public funding, according to its text. The bill would implement a process to certify candidates for the optional funding and require additional reporting from all candidates in a race where any candidate is receiving the money.
The Tronrud family came home Aug. 3 to find a momma black bear and three cubs on their property west of the Skagway River. After being scared away initially, the four-some came back a couple hours later and climbed onto the deck to get at a bird feeder. One of the three cubs has been identified by Fish and Game as a glacier bear, so it will not be protected as a "white" bear when it gets older. Fish and Game and the Borough advise everyone to put their bird feeders and any other attractants away till summer is over. Bears also have visited Dumpsters at the ballfields and Jewell Gardens . Photo courtesy of Cynthia Tronrud
BOROUGH: CANOL study funded
At the Aug. 7 Borough Assembly meeting, Assembly members had no objection to allocating $30,000 toward the CANOL Resource Corridor study being proposed by ALCAN RailLink of Whitehorse.
Mayor Tom Cochran said the money was put in the borough budget after a presentation from ALCAN officials in May.
According to a white paper, the group is proposing a multi-client study of the feasibility for a private/public partnership to finance, build and operate a heavy haul, resource export corridor along the CANOL Road between mineral properties in the Yukon and tidewater at Skagway, Alaska.
The study would look at converting the old 1940s road ñ now open only in the summer ñ into a haul road for the many mines due to come on line in the Yukon, utilizing bigger train trucks that are not even allowed on public highways.
The $180,000 study would be funded by up to six partners kicking in $30,000 each. Skagway would be the third buyer into the idea, said Borough Manager Alan Sorum, and four are needed for the study to proceed.
It shows people we are involved, he said, and Skagway would retain ownership of the study materials when it is completed.
Skagways port plan draft is nearing completion, said Cochran, and should be ready for public review soon. JB
BOROUGH: Clinic administrator search begins
Clinic Administrator Glennette Christians contract with the municipality will not be renewed when it ends Oct. 1, and the borough has begun a search for a new administrator at a higher rate of pay.
Clinic Board President John Warder confirmed the decision was made by Sorum and was not opposed by members of the board. Sorum would not comment on the decision, and Christian did not return calls for comment. She has been clinic adminstrator since the summer of 2005.
At the Aug. 7 meeting, borough assembly members and Sorum discussed the need to fill the position soon, and at a higher salary than what Christian was making $61,000 a year.
Sorum initially suggested a range between $80,000 and $90,000 a year to draw top candidates who have experience dealing with federal grants.
The clinic board understands $61,000 will not make it, he said. Once we get someone with experience it will more than make up for (the increase).
Sorum said he had been doing most of the grant legwork in recent months, and spent a hectic couple of weeks settling a sticky issue with the state historic preservation officer to allow the pre-construction work to continue on the new clinic site.
Cochran said the borough manager should not be working on clinic administration.
However, assembly members were not willing to go as high as the $80,000 Sorum proposed, and settled on a suggestion by Finance Chair Dan Henry to advertise the position at $72,000 or higher depending on experience.
If we dont get a response, well know its not enough, Sorum said.
The position is advertised in this issue. An initial review of applications will take place on Sept. 2. JB
UPDATE: After this story was published, Christian left a phone message that she was ready to comment, but when contacted again she said she was withholding comment on the advice of her attorney.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Kaylie ODaniel runs across the Miles Canyon footbridge near Whitehorse during the annual Yukon River Trail Marathon. See story in Sports and Rec. feature below. Photo by Molly Dischner
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