It’s 9 p.m., do you know where your runners are? Skagway race coordinator Buckwheat Donahue is a lonely figure at the start line of the Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay on Sept. 5. Most of the runners had taken off by then, leaving him to wait for the fast teams to take off every half hour until 11 p.m. Check out our Relay coverage . Dimitra Lavrakas

It's when, not if

DOT&OF public meeting makes intention clear on road to Juneau

Like a cheerleader for the winning team, Gary Paxton, Southeast Regional director for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said that roads would raise Southeast from its economic slump.
“I have a particular fondness for Southeast Alaska, and I don’t want to offend anyone,” he said at a public meeting Sept. 5 in City Council chambers. “But the economy in Southeast has been declining – the fishing industry went down, and there’s the emasculation of the timber industry, and the loss of population.”
He said he was looking at the road alternatives “totally objectively.”
Paxton said with a road out of Skagway, more fish product could be moved. However, he didn’t seem to be aware that Skagway is not a major commercial fishing spot and has only two commercial fishing businesses. There was no discussion of the role that Skagway plays as the Yukon’s shipping port.
Reuben Yost, statewide project manager for DOT&PF, admitted that the recent telephone survey on Juneau Access alternatives did not poll enough households. Yost said 150 were interviewed. The results of that survey will be released at the end of this month, he said.
There will also be regular newsletters, one at the end of September, and another in mid-December.
Yost said that the impact on individual businesses has not been studied properly, saying that cruise ships may not come here in as great a number because, with a road, they can turn around in Juneau or send people here on buses. Also local recreation would be affected if the road comes along Lower Dewey Lake trail.
“The ferry will definitely not come here if the road is built,” Yost told the 50 people present.
Later in the meeting, he seemed to want to soften that statement and said he meant there will be no regularly scheduled service, but there will be a fast ferry to Haines. Maybe in winter, he said, a boat will be pulled off another route and travel the Juneau, Haines, Skagway triangle.
He said he couldn’t even tell the audience how much a Haines to Skagway boat would cost the consumer.
Other routes being pursued, Paxton said, was a road from Haines to Skagway – “Some tough issues with that.” And a Leconte-size day boat shuttle ferry between Haines and Skagway.
As for the safety of a Juneau road to here, people raised concerns about the avalanche chutes, and one local about joyriding. Sharon Bolton said residents and parents here and in Juneau were worried the road would encourage young drivers to joy ride. She suggested a toll road to prevent this. Yost said that it was not going to be a toll road.
He also mentioned that the department was looking at a tunnel for access to Skagway off the hillside.
The closures to the Klondike Highway were raised and the fear that when the Juneau road closed down for avalanches that Skagway would be totally cut off from getting to Juneau to fly out.
The longest period the Klondike was closed, DOT&PF Road Operations Manager Keith Knorr said, was five days due to storming and bad visibility. In bad winters there are 10-15 closures, and in mild winters, six to seven. Paxton said the department thinks the avalanches can be controlled.
Some concern was voiced that the cost of the road hasn’t been upgraded since the 1997 quote of $232 million, but DOT/PF is estimating the cost as $250 million in today’s dollars.
This was the second scoping meeting of the year, with more planned.

Assistant DOT/PF Commissioner Gary Paxton addresses the public meeting on Sept. 5 dealing with Juneau Access. DL

Tri-Cities push for Juneau to be home port for fast ferry

Economic development directors, chamber of commerce members and politicians from Juneau, Haines and Skagway met here Aug. 29 and agreed to push for home porting the state’s new fast ferry in Juneau, rather than Sitka.
Since the meeting, Sitka has dropped its efforts to home port the fast ferry Fairweather, making more feasible the possibility of the vessel serving both Sitka and Lynn Canal communities. The decision came after a study commissioned by Sitka showed it could receive better ferry service if it did not home port the ferry.
At the Tri-Cities meeting in Skagway, several of the 30 in attendance at A.B. Hall spoke in favor of a plan before the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to provide fast ferry service in Lynn Canal five days a week starting next summer. The other two days would be spent on the Sitka route.
“The financials are so much better here (in Lynn Canal),” said Bart Henderson, a tour operator in Skagway and Haines. “Sitka needs it bad but one of the most important things is that steps be taken that need to be good for the whole ferry system.”
When asked about the fast ferry’s stability, Henderson stressed that any kinks in the running of fast ferries should be worked out on a route that makes money for the ferry system. “This will be good for Sitka and Prince William Sound in the long run.”
He also said that running the fast ferry in Lynn Canal would give the state a “real model” to compare the proposed road between Juneau and Skagway in the Juneau Access Environmental Impact Statement.
“The road project still may not get the money even if approved, and it could be a lot of years before it is built,” Henderson said. “By next year we could have good Juneau Access - in the short term.”
Robert Venables, Haines’ economic director and a member of the
governor’s new marine transportation committee, said the state recognized that an earlier plan to run the fast ferry once daily between Skagway and Juneau, and then between Haines and Juneau “was unacceptable” to the three communities.
That model would have allowed one 12-hour crew to operate the vessel, but the state is now looking at two 8-hour shifts, so the vessel can link all three communities twice daily in summer, five days a week, except on Wednesday and Sunday when it would operate between Juneau and Sitka.
“There are only 35 car spaces, so you need two trips a day to maintain capacity,” Venables said.
He also said Lynn Canal would still see six mainline vessels a week in the summer.
Skagway residents in attendance backed this plan.
Jan Wrentmore said the ferry should not be just for Sitka and should be allowed to “pay for itself,” adding that a McDowell Group traffic analysis showed that 40-50 percent of those using the system pass through Lynn Canal.
Tina Cyr said the state needs to look at all models to make the system work, and Mike Korsmo asked the body to get behind Venables’ proposal.
Juneau residents in attendance were supportive.
Rosemary Hagevig of Juneau said the cities need to speak “as one voice” to DOT/PF and the Legislature
Win Gruening of the Juneau Committee said better access to the capital city is still a high priority among state residents, including many in the huge majority who voted against moving the capital last year.
In a post-2003 election poll, there is “still a desire to improve access and tie Juneau economically to the rest of the state,” he said.
While transportation took up the most time, the Tri-Cities group heard updates on the current economies of all three communities and touched on other issues. Some interesting discussions centered around:
• Declines in enrollments at both Haines and Skagway schools as more families and young people leave, yet Haines is drawing more retirement age residents.
• While Skagway’s summer economy and construction appears to be booming, noted Skagway Development Corporation’s Mike Catsi, there has been a downward trend in independent travel with the closing of two hotels, and there still is a housing problem for attracting year-round workers.
• One of the reasons it is harder to keep younger people here is wages, noted Juneau economic director Lance Miller. Per capita income in Alaska at one time were 46 percent higher than the rest of the U.S. Now wages in Juneau average seven percent lower than the rest of the country, and in Southeast as a whole, wages are 14 percent off the national average.
• While there is interest in marketing “Chilkoot Reds” salmon to German markets from Skagway and Haines, the one German airline serving Whitehorse doesn’t have cargo authority yet, noted local fisherman Mark Saldi. “Chilkoot sockeye are just as nice” as Copper River Reds, he said.
• Quality health care and senior services is a high priority for all
communities, which in different ways operate or support their own facilities.
• Mining can be a good employer. Greens Creek is Juneau’s largest private employer, and the owners of the proposed Kensington Mine on Lynn Canal continue to build relationships here, in spite of better economic forecasts in other countries.

Resident questions city’s voter rolls
Voter list is responsibility of the state, says official

The concern Bert Bounds has about Skagway’s list of registered voters raises some questions.
He states in a letter to the Division of Elections, addressed also to various other state governmental officials, that there are definite problems with the city’s voter rolls, and asks for them to be resolved prior to the 2003 election.
“It seems apparent that the initial voter registration process is not being done in accordance with the governing administrative codes, state or local statutes, and there is no indication of any comprehensive review or maintenance of the local voter list,” wrote Bounds in his Aug. 1 letter.
He goes on to state that he knows of “registered local voters who also registered and voted out of state.”
Bounds also suggests that various local business owners have encouraged their employees to register here, and then fill out an absentee ballot before they leave at the end of the season.
Local business owner Dennis Corrington, who employs many seasonals in his businesses, addressed the concern.

“I don’t have any first hand knowledge of that happening,” said Corrington. “If we were doing it here, I’d be mayor. We have about 75 employees, and that’s usually enough to swing a vote here.”
Corrington also admitted there is a problem with the voter rolls. He feels that the fiscal priorities of seasonal employees are in contrast with year-round locals.
“One thing leads to another. If you have a married family with three kids, they’re going to vote the budget around education. A single seasonal employee’s going to vote money to go to a bungee jump,” he said.
But should a seasonal employee be allowed to vote? Laura Glaiser, Director of the Alaska Division of Elections, says yes.
She said that as long as they are legally registered to vote, then that individual is breaking no laws.
“They have to have the intent to stay in the community,” said Glaiser.
An applicant who wishes to register to vote is required to fill out an application that is basically a contract of that intent to stay, as well as providing personal information. The bottom of the application has a section that voids a person’s prior registration.
City Clerk Marj Harris said that the entire voting issue is not something the city deals with.
“Voter registration is a state issue. We just do it as a service to the voter,” said Harris.
She added of the alleged voter fraud, “If there’s something fraudulent going on, don’t sit there making innuendoes – spill it.”
University of Alaska Political Science Professor Jerry McBeath said the question of a voter’s intent on remaining in the community is a difficult subject.
“A person’s declaration of intent of residency is somewhat vague. Intent is a psychological element, and its extraordinarily difficult to clarify,” said McBeath.
In the past, voter rolls were managed more strictly by the state. List maintenance changed in 1993 with the advent of the Motor-Voter Act. According to a letter Glaiser sent to bounds, the Department of Justice made Alaska voter laws more liberal.
Glaiser asks that if anyone has information on voter fraud, they should contact Deputy Attorney General Patrick Gullufsen in Juneau at 465-3428.

State health doctor says don’t sweat it
Norovirus is year-round in state, shows up more in summer

A doctor with the state Division of Public Health had some reassuring words about the recent outbreak of the Norwalk-like virus among some passengers on Holland America Cruise Line’s Zaandam the last week of August.
Dr. Beth Funk, medical epidemiologist with the Alaska Division of Public Health in Anchorage, said this sort of virus is a year-round problem in Alaska, it just shows up more frequently during the summer tourist season. The proper term for the Norwalk virus is Norovirus, she said.
“I can understand where a community could be concerned, but it’s not a big health threat,” said Funk.
Norovirus is one of many gastro-intestinal disorders that are not required to be reported to health officials.
Cruise ships that travel through international waters are under the jurisdiction of the Center for Disease Control, a federal agency. Therefore, if an outbreak of serious illness did occur on a vessel, it wouldn’t be reported to the state.
Funk said that good hygiene is the key to avoiding the Norovirus, sometimes referred to as the “cruise ship virus.” Hand-washing and the disinfecting of surfaces are enough to prevent its spread in most situations.
Fortunately for those afflicted, it’s more of an inconvenience than anything.
“When people have Norovirus, they feel like they’re going to die, but the average individual is only sick for a day or two,” said Funk.
She added that the symptoms are worse, though, for infants and the elderly.
“These are community things that speed through communities, and unfortunately by the time people are sick, the horse is out of the barn,” she said. “When looking at it as a community health issue, it can be a real nuisance, but it’s not life threatening.”

Proving there is life after journalism, former reporter Mike Sica concentrates as he runs from one switch to another on his first day as a conductor on the WP&YR. DL

WP&YR sets new ridership record
The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad (WP&YR) proudly announced in a press release Wednesday that as of Sept. 9, it had set a new annual ridership record by carrying 319,121 revenue passengers – breaking the old record of 318,993 established in 2001. With 13 “train-days” left to the last trains scheduled for September 24, the WP&YR is still expecting to add to that record by about another 20,000 passengers.
This year, the railroad has broken the previous daily ridership record, set in 2001, 14 times. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is operating at capacity and has contracted for another 8 passenger coaches to meet the forecasted increased demand for the 2004 season.
Gary Danielson, President of the WP&YR stated that, “The annual ridership record is a great benchmark for us because it symbolizes team achievement on many dimensions. From our relationship with the customer, to operations, maintenance, safety and administration, we’ve managed to do more, and do it better, despite constraints.”
Danielson added, “And we're having fun doing it!”


• 2003 Klondike Road Relay coverage

• Mulvihill takes second in Skagway Cross-Country Meet

• Obituary: Marvin P. Knorr Sr.

• Heard on the Wind

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