BUCKWHEAT'S BACK

Buckwheat Donahue leads a pack of about 100 school children and other followers down Broadway on Thursday, August 24, the 327th day of his journey across the continent to raise money for Skagway’s Dahl Memorial Clinic.

Photos by Jeff Brady

Skagway traveler walks home after 7,000-plus road and river miles

The final Heartbeat Trail procession really started as soon as Buckwheat Donahue left Whitehorse on Aug. 18. He’d walk a couple miles, and someone from Skagway would stop him on the road.
He knew he was homeward bound, finally, after more than 7,000 miles and nearly eleven months crossing the continent’s roads and rivers from Miami to Alaska’s Bering Sea.
Word spread that he would be walking into town on Thursday, so quickly plans were made to give him a big welcome. Leslie Dodd, chair of the board for the Dahl Clinic, which has received nearly $50,000 raised by Donahue, set things in motion, on a schedule no less. And he stuck to it. This paper even delayed its printing.
About 8:30 a.m. Aug. 24, Donahue passed through U.S. Customs where a banner by Jean Worley greeted him, then he joined several friends on the walk down the hill. Others stopped to give him money.
Boyd Worley gave him a check for $1,000 collected from border agents. Thomas Pickerel gave him $110 from passing the hat on a tour. Big John O’Daniel and Maxine Selmer gave him hugs that were equally appreciated.
“Your e-mails lifted my spirits every week,” Donahue said to her.
Before the footbridge, he was serenaded by workers and visitors at Klondike Gold Dredge, H&H, and Jewell Gardens. Then he crossed the river and turned onto Main, where the street was filled with school children holding banners. He raised his arms in the air and they howled, then followed him into town.

CONCRETE FEET – Buckwheat makes an impression into a concrete block that will be laid in place at the new Skagway Clinic. See many more photos of his arrival and journey across the continent at www.heartbeattrail.com

“He used to be huge,” said one kid, drawing laughter from tourists as the entourage reached the Broadway Historic District
The kids chanted, “Buckwheat, Buckwheat, Buckwheat” and then “Stop” when he ran over to hug someone. Traffic stopped too.
At last he reached A.B. Hall about 11:30 a.m., where City Manager Bob Ward welcomed him. “To put this all into perspective, Buckwheat walked, biked and paddled thousands of miles to get here today,” he told the crowd, then quipped, “and I drove three blocks.”
Donahue first said he was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed, then explained why he embarked on his journey last October.
“Our little town is building a new clinic. It’s not big enough to support a doctor,” he said. “It’s a good cause. This is the end of my trip and I’m very happy to be home. Thank you, Skagway.”
After making an impression of his walking shoes in a concrete pad for the new clinic, he asked, “Can I go home now?”
And after a crowning beer at the Eagles and lunch at the Sweet Tooth, that’s just what he did. He walked home. After 10 months and 24 days.
Watch for more coverage of his final miles in the Sept. 8 issue. – JB

UPDATE (9-8 issue): CBP officers, anonymous donor boost Heartbeat Trail coffers
SKAGWAY - U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers recently donated a check for $1,000 to Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue, as he was processing through the Skagway Port of Entry. Donahue had just completed a 7,000-mile trek on foot, by bicycle and canoe in an attempt to raise $250,000 in pledges to buy medical equipment for the Skagway clinic. So far, he has raised around $60,000.
Donahue’s journey from Miami, Florida to Nome, Alaska on foot, bicycle and canoe had ended with a walk from Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada down the Klondike Highway and home to Skagway. It was a full 327-day journey that began on October 1, 2005.
Port Director Boyd Worley stated, “CBP officers at the Port of Skagway were so moved by Donahue’s efforts and courage that he inspired them to donate to the clinic, and they presented the check as a group effort upon his arrival. We wish him the best of luck in obtaining his goal.”
The Heartbeat Trail also received an anonymous $10,000 donation that was announced at the Presbyterian Church service after Buckwheat’s arrival, eliciting a howl from the biggest member of its congregation.
Donahue is currently on a real (non-walking) vacation to his old stomping grounds of Colorado and is due back home in a couple weeks.

Suit filed to halt Juneau Access road

SMAC among six groups challenging Katzehin route

By JEFF BRADY
A coalition of six environmental, transportation and public interest groups filed suit in federal court on Aug. 16 in an effort to convince the Federal Highways Administration and U.S. Forest Service to revisit their approval of the Juneau Access road project.
The state is due to open the first construction bids on the project – a road from Juneau to Katzehin Flats with a shuttle ferry to Haines and Skagway – on Aug. 31.
No court date has been set for the suit. Named as plaintiffs are the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Skagway Marine Access Commission, Lynn Canal Conservation, Alaska Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The suit asks for “declaratory and appropriate injunctive relief” from the federal agencies. Russell Heath, executive director of SEACC, explained in an e-mail from Juneau, that there are no “on-the-ground activities” to stop at the moment.
“The permanent injunctive relief which we are seeking would be awarded only after the lawsuit is resolved,” he wrote. “We want the agencies to go back and fully and fairly consider alternatives to the road and its impacts to our natural resources, which they are required to do by law but have failed to do.”
Such a suit has been threatened for a long time, and Jan Wrentmore of SMAC said there have been discussions among the groups over the past year and a half.
She said SMAC has not put up any money for the suit at this point, and it was not an easy decision “to be a party to this, but we feel Skagway and SMAC’s input through the whole process has been completely ignored, and the (Murkowski) administration’s abuse of the public process has been so flagrant that this is the only way that we can be heard.”
She said the concerns go back to early in the administration when a DOT official came to town and said the Environmental Impact Statement would support the road alternative and that anyone who disagreed would have to “get out of the way.”
During the EIS process, a road all the way to Skagway was abandoned by the state due to an objection raised by the National Park Service that the route would cross the Skagway National Historic Landmark boundary. Wrentmore said SMAC’s membership did not diminish following that decision last fall.
“I think primarily that SMAC supports improved ferry service, and we don’t think the Katzehin alternative improves anything. There’s a strong feeling that Juneau, Skagway and Haines will have worse access.”
During a teleconference in which it announced the decision, the groups invited city officials from Skagway, Haines and Juneau to comment.
Skagway Mayor Tim Bourcy said the proposed Juneau road and other “mega projects” are impacting communities by taking away money for smaller projects previously identified on the State Transportation Improvement Projects lists.
“Recently we’ve been watching our projects move up on the list only to have them disappear...” Bourcy said. “Last year when communities weighed in on the STIP, not a single comment was positive. We can’t expect the state to have the funds to address the smaller projects important to communities if we continue with these very large projects. We have our priorities wrong. We can’t maintain what we have and we need to reevaluate.
“In closing, Skagway has access to Juneau. The problem is inept management of the ferry system.”
Speaking for himself, Mayor Bruce Botelho of Juneau, whose borough assembly recently approved of the project despite objections from its zoning commission, said a higher priority for Juneau is a second crossing to Douglas Island.
He said Juneau has been working on better access to the capital city with airport improvements, reduced airfares, and support of electronic media, but that the ferry service’s “unpredictable and unreliable schedules” have created a “downward spiral” leading to a loss of ridership.
Haines Borough Assembly member Stephanie Scott said her government supports improved ferries. “I don’t believe (the road) will be a link, it will be a kink.”
And Juneau emergency room Dr. Lindy Jones said the capital city’s current emergency services have trouble with accidents 25 miles out the road.
“There are just too many risks that this road plan doesn’t plan for at all,” he said.
The five counts in the suit allege that: a) the project does not comply with the Tongass Land Management Plan; b) violates the Bald Eagle Protection Act; c) failed to consider reasonable alternatives required by the National Environmental Policy Act; d) provided a misleading traffic demand forecast in violation of NEPA; and e) failed to initiate formal consultation for Stellar Sea Lions required by the Endangered Species Act.
Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Mike Barton fired back in a press release that the Juneau Access project had been thoroughly studied through the NEPA process and that the road would provide “better, more affordable access into the state’s capital.”
“The process to get us to the threshold of building this important road is almost unparalleled in its depth and detail,” Barton continued. “This project includes everything from eagle windows that require construction to halt in some areas so as not to disturb the birds, to wildlife underpasses. I am confident that this project will survive the legal challenge that these environmental groups have launched and that they will not be successful in delaying this road that is so important to the rest of the state.”
In a television interview during the primary campaign, Gov. Frank Murkowski echoed the commissioner’s comments, saying “the road will be built.”
SEACC’s Heath said he disagreed with the governor’s prediction.
“The communities of Lynn Canal have been clear: improved ferry service is more important than a road,” he said. We hope that the next administration listens more closely to the public and pulls the plug on this quarter billion dollar waste of money.”
Even though he lost the primary Tuesday, the governor said he will press on with his agenda. At the top of his agenda are the gas line and a road to Juneau.
But Wrentmore is hoping for better ferry service to Skagway, with the state implementing a “reasonable schedule and fares.”

Skagway settles Clean Water Act violation with EPA

By EMILY A. PALM
The Skagway City Council recently agreed to a settlement from the Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at its watewater treatment plant over the past four years.
Because of the sensitive financial nature of the settlement, the council discussed the issue during a swift three-minute executive session at their last meeting, and then voted to accept a settlement offer from the agency.
The agreement to settle precluded the filing of an official complaint from the EPA against the city.
EPA officials in Seattle said they are withholding comment on details of the settlement until they are in receipt of the final agreement, and then will issue a press release.
“It’s centered around bacteria,” said wastewater treatment plant operator Tim Gladden. The bacteria at large are fecal coliforms. A mixing zone around the outfall of the treatment plant is issued by the state and the number of bacteria colonies within the plant is kept under a certain limit to prevent too much from reaching the Taiya Inlet.
Despite efforts using chlorine to decrease bacteria counts, Gladden said numbers within the plant have exceeded the imposed limit. The amount flushed out into the inlet has been in compliance, he added. They are extending a chamber to remedy the problem.
Another violation involved the extraction of solids from the sewage. A new clarifier is in the works to increase the amount taken out, said Gladden.
Prior to receiving the letter of violation, the city had already planned to put $250,000 into plant improvements, said City Manager Bob Ward.
“The EPA is pleased with not only the efforts we’ve been planning to take but the efforts taken over the years,” said Ward.
With the seasonal influxes to the wastewater plant, it is difficult to be consistent on a daily basis, Ward noted, adding that if bacteria counts were taken over the course of a year, the city would be in compliance.
In September the city will request an increase in permit limits, said Gladden, who noted that Haines is allowed 50 percent more than Skagway.

CITY: Sales tax proposition makes ballot
In October the citizens of Skagway will decide if the sales tax should increase from four to five percent while adding groceries and large appliances to the current list of exempted items.
Opinions among the council varied as they recently discussed passing the proposition to the ballot. It passed 4-2 with members Dan Henry, Craig Jennison, Mike Korsmo and Mike Catsi votiing for it, and Dave Hunz and Lisa Cassidy voting against it.
“We haven’t done our homework,” said Hunz, adding that he couldn’t support passing the ordinance to the ballot. He expressed concern that the increase in taxes would drop consumer spending and drive local residents out of town to shop.
Despite initially supporting the ordinance, Cassidy felt more research was needed. “It doesn’t really give the people what they need for an informed decision,” she said, noting that implications of the increase should be investigated, for example whether higher rent prices would ensue.
As a vocal supporter of the proposition, Finance Committee Chairman Dan Henry said a one percent increase in sales tax seemed pretty simple. “We’re not doing brain surgery here,” he said, adding “I think it will be easy enough for the voter to understand.”
A 1999 visitor impact study reported that just nine cents out of every dollar brought in to Skagway stays here. In the past seven years the amount staying in Skagway has probably diminished, said City Manager Bob Ward. Though the community has done much for the visitor industry and vice versa, “the biggest beneficiary takes ninety-one cents out of every dollar out,” Ward reminded.
When asked if they would provide information to voters about the loss of grocery tax revenue versus what would be taken in from a five percent tax, Ward responded that it would be significantly more.
Gayla Hites approached the council to remind them that the matching grant given to the city for building the clinic will save $3 million by 2007. She called this a “magnificent achievement” that demonstrates good financial shape.
“For the near term, we just don’t need the sales tax increase,” Hites said.
After the vote, members joked with City Clerk Marj Harris that they just made the October election interesting.
Only incumbent Councilmembers Hunz and Cassidy and School Board members Darren Belisle and Chris Maggio filed for office. – EAP

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

CONVEYOR CUISINE – Eggs, assorted meats and even a slice of pepperoni pizza make the line of incinerator-bound products from seizures at the Skagway border port of entry. See story in features below. Emily Palm photo

• BORDER BOUNTY: Confiscation process feeds meat and potatoes to Skagway incinerator

• SPORTS & REC: Cross-country team trains with heart monitors; Skagway teams do well at Yukon River Trail Marathon

• FISH THIS! When animals invade...

HEARD ON THE WIND: Birds in the air... and on the brains.

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