FINAL FRONTIER DAYS

WINDOW TO SKAGWAY – Moe’s customer Wayne Ames appears to be reflecting on days gone by, as bartender Joann Arnold gives someone outside a wave during this year’s Fourth of July celebration. Skagway’s oldest operating bar will close later this month. See story below.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

Music returns to Skagway School
Many kids will be taking up the sax

By JEFF BRADY
“We made music!” exclaimed middle school student K.C. Mayo, after following the notes on a blackboard while blowing into his recorder to the clapping hands of teacher David LeCompte.
That creative thrill of learning and producing a piece of music has been missing from the Skagway School for the past three years. Now it’s back, with a new teacher and new instruments.
After some individual students took their turns, LeCompte had half the class play a top line of notes on their recorders, while the others played the lower line. They played the measures separately, then together.
“Keep going, even if you make a mistake,” LeCompte said. “And don’t look at the person next to you if they make a mistake. Keep playing. ”
That’s not as easy as it sounds with a bunch of middle schoolers, but afterward he had kids identify the mistake, where it fell in the measure, so they could fix it next time.

HITTING THE NOTE – Skagway middle school students practice their recorders in music class last week. Jeff Brady

That the music program itself has been given a next time seemed impossible just a few months ago, with enrollment hovering at 100 or below. But two things happened. The three years was up since the district invoked a Reduction In Force to eliminate the program and teacher, meaning it was now free to hire someone else without offering the job to a former teacher. And when the school district approached the local government in June with the idea of using about $70,000 in timber reserves to pay for the program, the city council may have balked at the timing, but they said yes.
“Tee tee, tah tah, tee tee, tahhhh, rest!” LeCompte says, having the students repeat what he says before they even pick up an instrument.
Then they move to the recorders, and pretty soon, they will get to crack open the boxes in the back of the stage, where new instruments await.
LeCompte, a Philadelphia-bred saxophonist who has played jazz on cruise ships, visited Skagway last spring. He had taught K-12 and special education kids music in New Jersey, and was interested in a position here if the program started up again. Superintendent Dr. Michael Dickens was ready to offer him a job but had to get the funding. After getting the nod from the city, he hired LeCompte the next day before leaving for summer vacation.
“It all happened so fast,” Dickens said.
Maybe a little too fast.

David LeCompte points to the notes while timing the beats for his students. JB

When LeCompte arrived last month, one of the first things he did was check out and test the instruments. He found that many of them which had come from the closed Adak district a decade ago, were old, neglected, and even broken, and he asked if there was money to purchase new ones. The cost would be more than $30,000, Dickens explained, which wasn’t possible, so LeCompte checked into leasing instruments from Juneau.
The proposed contract with Juneau Brass and Winds came before the Skagway School Board at its regular meeting last week, and the board had questions about the cost ($24 to $48 per month, per instrument), the breakdown of the 33 instruments, and whether they could be returned or swapped.
LeCompte was not present when it came up for discussion late in the meeting, so the board reconvened a special session the following day.
The “lease to own” contract is for $37,620 over 30 months, and the instruments can be exchanged for up to a year. All are new instruments, LeCompte explained and he defended the request for 20 alto saxophones in the list of 33.
“A number of the students wanted to play sax....” LeCompte said, adding that the finger movement on the saxes is easier to teach. “They can switch later. It’s easier to teach one instrument now for them to be successful.”
Board member Robert Murphy, a stand-out trumpet-player in his high school days, questioned how the overall band would sound with so many saxophones, but LeCompte said he knew of a band of just saxophones and banjoes that sounded great.
“We’re starting out a program, let’s get them started with what they want to play,” LeCompte said.
Murphy said he doesn’t want to see “a ton of saxes collecting dust,” but was comfortable enough with the contract language to vote for it with the rest of the board.
Members said they want to explore having the parents pay a monthly fee for the instruments, starting next semester. That’s a practice in many schools, Dickens noted, and gives kids a sense of ownership. LeCompte said that before anyone plays a sax, clarinet, trumpet or flute, that they will know how to put it together, take it apart, clean it, pack it , and store it properly.
So far, LeCompte said, he has been amazed by how quickly the kids are learning.
“In the first 45 minutes (with the recorders) I got them playing half notes, quarter notes and rests,” he said. “Maybe they’ll make national headlines. They all seem to be enthusiastic about it.”

Bottoms up: Moe’s to close

By ANDREW CREMATA
In 1942, long before mega-cruise ships docked in Skagway, before Alaska was even a state, Malcolm Moe opened the doors of what would become a Skagway institution, Moe’s Frontier Bar.
Malcolm is gone and his wife Mary Lou’s health has kept her from running the place in recent years, so the old place has finally been sold.
On September 27, Moe’s doors will close for the last time.
Ariana Manolakakis bought the Broadway building over the summer, and while rumors have been spreading around town concerning the future of the establishment, Manolakakis was clear when she spoke on the fate of Skagway’s oldest operating tavern.
“The bar is closing,” she said from her home in Juneau. “It will not be a bar anymore.”
Manolakakis, whose family owns restaurants in Juneau and Skagway, said there were no firm details as to the exact makeup of the business, but they were in the process of designing plans.
She did say the building would house a retail store of some sort and would definitely not be a restaurant. “Things are up in the air,” she said. “We don’t know if it will be a jewelry store or what yet.”
Barb Moseley has been bar manager of Moe’s since 1995. Moseley said she was not aware if the two liquor licenses had been sold, but was given notice that the new owners would take control of the building on September 30. The package store license is in the process of being transferred to G&C, Inc., which owns Alaska Liquor Store (see legal ads). For the present, it will be a “no premise” license. The bar license is separate, and there’s no word yet on its outcome from Mary Lou Moe’s attorney.
Future employment for Moseley and the 11 employees currently on the payroll is up in the air.
“I’m going to take the winter to think about it,” said Moseley.
“Maybe I’ll get a job at the bank to count everybody’s money and not just Mary Lou (Moe’s).”
Bartender Monica Wilcox echoed the sentiments of some of the other employees when she said, “I don’t even know if I’m going to stay in Skagway.”
Bartender Becky Shank was more succinct in her appraisal of the closing.
“It’s sad,” she said.
Moseley said the news was a shock to everyone, even though rumors of the closing were swirling around town for some time.
“We’re going to go through a major grieving process,” she said.
Moseley said she imagines much of Moe’s business will fall to the Elks and Eagles lodges over the winter months. The Eagles will retain summer hours this winter in anticipation of Moe’s clientele seeking out a new watering hole.
Moseley said the bar is planning “a big blowout” on September 27, which will be open to everyone.
“It will be a good-bye to Moe’s,” she said.
Moseley added, “Everyone, at one time or another, has come into Moe’s.”
“It’s the end of an era.”
•••••
Editor’s note: Andrew is compiling several stories and photos for a “Moe’s Memories” piece in the Sept. 21 issue. If you have anything to contribute, please call him at 983-2157 by Sept. 17.

State assessor urges total re-evaluation of all borough property after finding ‘inconsistencies’

By JEFF BRADY
The state assessor has found that while there was “nothing wrong” with the way the borough assessor has been placing values on property in Skagway, “there are inconsistencies” and there is a need for a total re-evaluation of property in the borough.
Specifically, State Assessor Steve Van Sant said the borough’s two restaurant leases on Congress Way, with values of less than $13 per square foot, were low compared with similar commercial properties downtown.
Van Sant and assistant Ron Brown visited Skagway Aug. 23 to meet with the Skagway Borough Assembly and address a complaint filed with their office last spring. The complaint alleged there may have been favoritism in the valuation of those Congress Way leases, one of which is the Skagway Fish Co., co-owned by Assembly Member Dan Henry.
Borough Assessor Charles Horan earlier this year apologized for an oversight in not regularly adjusting the values of the restaurants and other “possessory interest” leases of government property, and said that he had no contact with the owners of the Fish Co. or the Stowaway. Henry has said he never paid much attention to the values and just paid what was on his tax bill every year.
Those two valuations were subsequently increased in the spring, and Horan said they will regularly go over all leases in the future.
Van Sant said he saw no favoritism applied to values by Horan. “We don’t find any evidence of that,” he said.
But after looking at property cards from Broadway (with values of $35-$100 a square foot) and off-Broadway ($30-$65), he looked at Henry and said, “Yours is not $12 a square foot.”
Van Sant then added, “but the sales don’t show that.”
In an earlier presentation to the assembly a week prior, Horan said sales are the driving force behind all valuations.
One explanation presented earlier by the borough and its assessor was that the valuations of the Congress Way leases were affected by limits on what they could be used for. But even with such restrictions, Van Sant said something is wrong when residential property is valued at $15 to $22 a square foot, and those commercial properties are valued at less than $13.
He said the inconsistencies show a need for a total re-evaluation, which has not been done since 1996. Van Sant said his office recommends one every six years.
Van Sant said Horan and Co. is a reputable firm, one of three working with small communities in the state. He said they could be used, or the borough could seek a separate contract.
Skagway remains the third highest per capita property tax collector in the state, according to the 2006 Alaska Tax Table, with $1,974 collected for each of its 834 residents. Only the oil-rich North Slope Borough and Valdez are higher. The full report can be downloaded from the state website, just type in State Assessor and find the link.

FTA says new bus barn location OK

By JEFF BRADY
The Federal Transit Administration has cleared the municipality of any wrong-doing in the way it changed locations for a bus barn being funded by a grant from the agency.
In a Aug. 14 letter to local citizen Candace R. Wallace, who had filed a complaint with the agency, FTA Regional Administrator R.F. Krochalis said they had examined all the issues that she raised and concluded that the municipality “did not act improperly in its application for funds and that the grant should not be held up any longer.”
The FTA grant for the facility, which would house the town’s municipal transit bus fleet, is for $340,287.
An application from the former City of Skagway reviewed in Dec. 2006 and January 2007 was approved for a relocation to the site at 1st and State next to the town’s police department and animal shelter.
“We had earlier approved other sites that did not work out for the City,” the letter continued. “It is not uncommon to have a grantee change the location of a project like a bus barn during the planning and design process.”
The location switched three times. Originally it would have been on a municipal land selection north of the White Pass shops, but the railroad disputed the boundaries. The city then looked at two locations on Alaska Street, but residents raised concerns at meetings about those sites. On Aug. 17, 2006, the matter moved to the City Council table under unfinished business as “Final Disposition of Bus Barn.” At that time, the First and State location was proposed and approved.
Wallace still contends that the Aug. 2006 meeting, unlike previous meetings on the subject, did not spell out the location as required in the FTA application.
“It never said ‘location,’” she said. “There was never a public meeting held regarding this specific site... The site came up and most people didn’t know about it ... to voice their concerns.”
In response to her concern, Krochalis wrote: “We also validated whether there were opportunities for public comment on the facility siting process by examining records of public meetings and public hearings, as well as newspaper coverage of the issue.”
Borough Clerk Marj Harris provided documentation of 20 City Council meetings and six Planning and Zoning meetings where the topic was discussed in public, said Borough Manager Alan Sorum.
“The topic was well discussed,” Sorum said, adding that he was happy with the federal agency’s examination of a “laundry list of concerns” from Wallace that the borough spent a lot of time researching and addressing.
Wallace said she could not respond to other points in FTA’s letter as she has not yet seen what the municipality gave the agency. She had concerns about air quality and possible lead-zinc contamination at the site, whether it complied with the Skagway Coastal Management Plan, and if there was adequate power to the site.
In response to those concerns, Krochalis wrote that it had received confirmation from the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation that air quality, while it may be affected, was not to the point of a legal concern, and that the prior lead-zinc contamination in the area north of the ore terminal has been cleaned up. It noted that ADEC said there still is contamination but “the hazardous substance contamination remaining on the site did not pose an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.”
It also said the light industrial zone complied with the SCMP and that the local power company had said serving the site would be “straightforward.”
The letter continued that the agency cannot address her concerns regarding the responsibility of local government, nor can FTA try to determine the “best” site or “debate local land use planning and economic development trade-offs.”
One concern raised at subsequent meetings was that the land is part of the waterfront and should be reserved for uplands staging. There also have been ongoing concerns that the FTA grant was a sweet deal for S.M.A.R.T., which has the municipal bus contract. But borough officials in the past have maintained it will be a borough facility, and eventually could be a public works garage if the municipal transit contract is ever canceled.
“While there appear to be differing views in the Skagway community about the ideal location for this facility, FTA does not believe that the City acted with intent to mislead FTA with respect to this grant, and we found no material errors or misrepresentations in the material the City provided us,” the letter state. “Moreover, under FTA regulations (23 CFR Section 771.117), we may presume that a bus maintenance facility, if located on a site with adequate traffic capacity and appropriate zoning, will not lead to significant adverse environmental impacts. Having taken another look at the specifics of this project, we see nothing to change our original conclusion.”
Sorum said the municipality is now clear to get a Request For Proposal out on the street this fall for the project. It is in the process of getting a new appraisal for the property, which will be the community’s match to the FTA
“We want to try to get it out to an RFP as soon as we can,” he said. “It will solve the question of price too.”
Earlier this summer, Sorum asked the assembly, in light of the concerns raised, if the project was worth pursuing any further. At the time, members said it could proceed but that they were “not putting any more money into it.”
Sorum said the project could start in the spring, “if the price is right.”

Some progress in Teamsters negotiations
Negotiators from the White Pass and Yukon Route and Teamster Local 959 met with the federal mediation board in Washington, D.C. in late August, but no agreement was reached.
The two sides are scheduled to meet again by themselves in two weeks.
“We made a little headway, and we’re going to be meeting again in Anchorage on Sept. 20 and 21, with the company,” said Tim Sunday, Southeast Alaska business agent for Local 959.
Sunday said he was hopeful for an agreement then. “If we can’t get it finalized then, then we’ll be meeting in D.C. again with the mediator sometime in October.”
The shops crews, maintenance of way track workers, coach cleaners, and others rail crafts represented by the Teamsters have been working without a new contract for 20 months.
Last month, WP&YR reached a new agreement with the train and enginemen of the United Transportation Union, who also had been working under an old contract for more than a year.
The Teamsters took their cause to the public over the past month, displaying orange “Teamster Rail Workers Demand Fair Contract” bumper stickers.
Company officials have declined comment on the campaign and negotiations, other than saying they are also hopeful for reaching an agreement.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

STAGE SIXSUNRISE – Bove Island and Tagish Lake glow in the early morning last week. Klondike Road Relay racers along this stage usually have the best views. Link to our special 25th anniversary story below. JB

• SILVER ANNIVERSARY FEATURE - A look back at the first Klondike Trail of '98 Road Relay in 1983; Cross-country race in Dyea

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