Young Sarah Palin in Skagway

Sarah Heath (now Palin), left, looks up at the camera after checking out a book held by her sister Heather in 1969, not long before they moved north to Eagle River. Right is Ted Cochran, whose mom Ginny took this photo in their Skagway home. The Heath kids lived across the street. The future governor of Alaska and Republican vice president candidate was five.

See our Front Page Feature: SARAH PALIN FIRST LIVED HERE

Photo courtesy of Tim Cochran

Port plan draft touts 'Skagway Advantage'

Different options for gradual expansion


A draft of the Skagway Port Development Plan has been circulating for the past couple of weeks, and the Port Steering Committee weighed in on elements of the plan on Sept. 3.
Committee members were pleased with sections of the draft that highlighted the “Skagway Advantage” over Stewart B.C. for shipping minerals from the Yukon. They also favored the report’s “Analysis of Options” which called for a gradual expansion of port facilities as new mines in the Yukon come online with increased tonnages bound for Skagway.
However there were some differences of opinion regarding the options dealing with where to expand.
The draft was developed by CH2M Hill, which has circulated it to committee members, facility owners White Pass and AIDEA, and potential port users for comments. The draft is also available on the port website: But it won’t be finalized for public presentation and review until the end of the month.
It is tentatively scheduled to be presented first by the consultants at the “Opportunities North” conference in Whitehorse on Sept. 30, and then in Skagway prior to the Borough Assembly meeting on Oct. 2, said Borough Manager Alan Sorum.
The report opens with a review of existing facilities and traffic assessments. There is information on a dozen potential mine customers, totaling 26 million potential metric tonnes that could be shipped here over 30 years. Then there’s the Alaska Highway Gas Pipeline, which would require 1.1 million tonnes shipped to the Yukon during its two-year construction period and another 45,000 tonnes shipped out.
The draft then shifts to “Port and Supply Chain Competitiveness,” focusing on mines central to Carmacks, Ross River and Watson Lake. A table shows there is a “Skagway Advantage” over shipping to Stewart by 868 kilometers from Carmacks area mines, by 438-582 kms from Ross River area mines, and by 75-135 kms from Watson Lake area mines. Even using various highway routes to Skagway, the advantage in costs savings over shipping to Stewart ranges is $76.38 per tonne from Carmacks, $38.50 to $51.22 from Ross River, and $6.60 to $11.88 from Watson Lake, according to another table.
“The Skagway Advantage is significant for mines located near Carmacks or Ross River,” the draft states. “The advantage decreases significantly for a mine located near Watson Lake.”
The draft report then launches into preferred options over the short term (5 years), medium (15 years), and long term (beyond 15 years). “The options are organized to build upon each other in a logical manner that allows incremental investment in the port facilties,” the report states.
Short term Concept A ($15 million) increases capacity at the current ore terminal pad by an additional 80,000 tonnes a year so it could service 140,000 tonnes a year, or two or three more customers. The next Concept B-1 ($42.3 million) over the short term allows for a further expansion so the terminal can service 300,000 tonnes per year. But, citing cost savings, it does not address improvements to the ship loader.
This concerned Port Steering Committee Chair Tim Bourcy and a representative from AIDEA who listened in via teleconference. They favored going ahead with a radial ship loader, so the ore ships don’t have to be moved back and forth to allow a bulldozer to be loaded onto the ship for trimming.
“If we could load faster, there’d be more going in and out,” said the AIDEA representative. He added that the terminal’s current user, Sherwood Copper, has already requested an expansion of 12,000 square feet to the facility, and may need another 15,000 square feet for future Minto Mine shipments.
Local engineer Paul Taylor, who was the committee’s consultant on the draft report, said “the report basically says build on what’s there until you get to 800,000 tonnes.”
The AIDEA representative said a big question for them is, “If I build out that shed, will I have dockage?”
Things start changing more when looking at the medium term concepts, which remove cruise ship conflicts on the Ore Dock.
Option B-2 ($108-135 million) moves the Temsco helicopter pad to the airport apron and constructs a new ore storage area and dock angling toward the Skagway River mouth. It could handle 460,000 tonnes a year.
Option C ($85 million) keeps the Temsco pad at its current location, allowing for terminal expansion behind the existing building while keeping the current dock configuration with a new radial loader. It also shows a third cruise ship berth as an extension of the Railroad Dock. Bourcy said he favored this approach as it separates tourism and industrial areas the best. But it would only handle 300,000 tonnes a year.
Option D-1 ($103-$130 million) expands the current terminal and uses a conveyor system to load a ship at the river mouth, rather than moving the Temsco helipad. It could handle 460,000 tonnes a year.
The long term Option D-2 ($151 million) expands the entire ore terminal and uplands for an ore dock on the west side at the river mouth, moving the helipad, but allowing two cruise ships at the old ore dock. This assumes the development of a major mine like the Howards Pass or Selwyn project near the Yukon-Northwest Territories border with a potential for 115 million shippable tonnes over 21 years. When tonnages start getting that high, said Taylor and noted in the report, rail becomes a consideration.
Later, Taylor emailed the tonnages from the Anvil mine years to compare. The high was 642,000 tonnes in 1991. The railroad never reached those tonnage heights when it was hauling ore from Faro in the 1970s and early 1980s, he noted.
“All of our Alaska Canada Rail Link work and the upcoming Yukon reports will show that at the level of about 1 million tonnes, the railroad can compete with trucks...Utah yard to Skagway,” he wrote.
The report draws out financial models for supporting the various port expansion options and then addresses other considerations like impacts on highway traffic, airport and helicopter operations, possible environmental impacts on the river, and interference with cruise ships using the Broadway dock
It suggest 64 trucks a day (32 each way, approximately every 15 minutes for 16 hours a day, 250 days a year) might be a limit that is acceptable to the borough. The medium term options would be pushing that limit, and the long term option would exceed it.

Garden City RV purchase, land sale, West Creek hydro focus of meetings today


The Skagway Borough Assembly will meet in special session today to decide whether it can proceed with Alaska Power & Telephone in applying for a state Renewable Energy Fund grant for a West Creek hydro project.
The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
It will follow a 4 p.m. work session to discuss the prospects of purchasing the Garden City RV Park property from the Catholic Diocese and strategy for an upcoming Nahku Bay land sale.
All three are big items on the assembly’s fall agenda. The church property is being considered for possible senior housing and other municipal needs in the future, and the Nahku sale for more prime residential property.
West Creek has been identified as a possible hydroelectric project since the 1970s, but only recently did it emerge as a potential project to cut down on cruise ship emissions.
AP&T’s Stan Selmer said his office was hit with calls on a day this summer when cruise ship emissions were bad, and was asked if the Kasidaya project – due to be online this fall – would allow a ship to plug in. Selmer said the 2 megawatt Kasidaya project may provide enough for a small ship to plug in, but large ships need 8-12 megawatts. Then he thought of West Creek, which old studies identified as an 18 megawatt project, and tying it into the state’s new Renewable Energy Fund which was passed by the Legislature this summer.
Selmer floated the idea to the assembly last month for sharing the cost of a state grant application. The assembly passed it on to the Dyea Advisory Board for input, but Mayor Tom Cochran already had a draft letter ready to look at when they met on Sept. 1.
The following evening at the assembly meeting, DAB chair Dennis Bousson said the three members present supported the design concept for its renewable energy potential, but he said the letter identified support for construction and wanted to make sure “it was thoroughly vetted through the public process” and included in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan.
He said the project would require “a significant investment of borough real estate,” and urged the assembly to look at a cost benefit analysis, prioritize it with other municipal projects, and consider mitigating factors.
When asked what those were, Bousson said the biggest would be noise from the powerhouse, and how the project will affect recreational opportunities up West Creek valley.
Mayor Tom Cochran admitted to jumping ahead to supporting construction in the letter, and the assembly toned it down to say: “Our borough supports the study for potential construction of a renewable energy project on municipal property located in West Creek, if the project is deemed feasible and can be permitted.”
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said the DAB brought up “valid concerns” but if the grant is approved then it would kick in an engineering study which would lead to an Environmental Impact Statement and more public input before a permit could be granted. He said there was some urgency to getting a grant application ready by a Nov. 1 deadline, and the letter was to let the state’s Alaska Energy Authority know that Skagway was interested.
In explaining the project, the letter stated that West Creek’s close proximity to existing transmission lines would make it easy to connect to the Skagway-Haines electrical intertie.
“The availability of additional hydroelectric generation capacity would reduce the region’s dependence on diesel generated power,” the letter continued. “There is also a distinct possibility that at least one cruise ship visiting Skagway could be plugged in during the summer to reduce fuel use and engine emissions.”
The assembly had no objection to sending the amended letter, but member Mike Korsmo said there should be more of a public process and that the project should be vetted through the Comprehensive Plan.
“In the past, when we didn’t put projects out to the community is when we got into trouble,” he said.
Mayor Cochran suggested putting the project on the Comprehensive Plan’s agenda for Sept. 24, and then the assembly could vote to move forward with the grant officially at its next regular meeting on Sept. 25. In the meantime, a special meeting was called for this Friday so AP&T could give the assembly an answer on whether its grant writer could do the application by Nov. 1, and what the cost to the borough will be.
Selmer said AP&T estimates West Creek would cost $50 million to construct, and would have to be a community-driven project. It was suggested that, if approved, money to build West Creek would have to come from the state through a combination of the energy fund and cruise tax money.
A strong advocate of a hydropower intertie throughout the region voiced her support at the assembly meeting. Mavis Irene Henricksen said if the intertie moves forward, Skagway would likely be at the end of the list, so doing a project on our own makes sense now.
“I strongly hope you support this idea for this West Creek project,” she said. “West Creek is the only way we will get help (with cruise ship emissions) in a timely manner.”
The assembly decided not to pursue state grant funds for a possible intertie with Yukon Energy, since it found out the funds can only be applied within the state.

Chamber speakers talk up news about governor, tourism, port opportunities

Sarah Palin was the buzz at the annual meeting of the Skagway Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Aug. 29, the day the world found out she was John McCain’s choice for vice president.
Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Haines) stood up and offered a big thumbs up for the governor. He said the announcement that morning “had done more for tourism in Alaska than anything.”
Although he said Gov. Palin and he have had their differences, “she is our governor, your governor.”
Thomas gave a little insight into how the governor works. He had let it be known that he was a likely No vote on the gas pipeline during the special session because of Palin’s veto of several projects in his district during the regular session.
“On the day of the vote, guess who calls?” he said, and then he explained to her that he had problems with giving $500 million to a Canadian company to build the pipeline, but then said, “’Now that’s off my chest, I’ll be a Yes vote.’
“I voted for it because it was the only gas bill on the floor that day.”
And it could be good for two of his communities.
“Haines and Skagway are going to be very key to the pipeline,” he said.
Thomas said he has been working with the Department of Transportation on making sure both Upper Lynn Canal ports are being considered for the pipe haul. He said Skagway does present some challenges in the summertime with all the cruise traffic, but there is “no reason why it can’t move through here in the winter.”
He also said Moore Creek bridge may have to be replaced in order to handle the long sections of pipe, or closed to the public when the pipe is moving through.
Thomas, who is running for re-election, reminded those in attendance that the energy rebate for Alaskans that passed the special session actually started as his idea. His original bill proposed rebates of $500.
“She upped it to $1,200,” he said of the governor. “I’m a little upset she did not call me when she signed it.”
Thomas also took credit for passage of the renewable energy bill, which will help build hydro sites around the district and state. He said he received the Skagway resolution in support of a regional electrical intertie so cruise ships may plug in some day for power, but urged “baby steps” on the issue of possibly using cruise tax money for that mega-project. For now he wants to see tax credits for ships that will pursue the technology for plugging in and reducing emissions.
The other speakers at the meeting gave insights into how tourism is working and how the port can thrive.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said ferry arrivals through July were up by more than 1,000 passengers, but highway arrivals were down about four percent, but with just a two percent drop in vehicles. Gas prices so far were not deterring RV travelers from coming here.
Based on a formula he developed last year, non-cruisers in 2007 spent $198.63, while cruisers spent $126.56. He’ll be able to apply the formula to this year’s sales once the season is over.
Cruise numbers this year are 61,000 lower than 2007, but should be back up to last year’s level in 2009, Donahue said. Holland America will be bringing in a larger ship.
“2009 is looking pretty good for getting our capacity numbers up,” he said. “It should be over 820,000.”
He said the cruise lines have committed $70 million toward advertising Alaska, but it remains to be seen how much they may have to discount to fill ships next year.
The cruise tax alone from the first year brought Skagway $4.057 million.
Michael Brandt, vice president of WP&YR, used his time to talk more about regional markets and working with the Yukon. He is next in line to be chairman of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
He talked about how chambers can focus on local issues and help identify and solve common problems relating to infrastructure needs, business development, and regulations. With mega projects like the gas line on the horizon, government and municipalities need to “hear the voice of business,” he said, adding that chambers of commerce are a great place to stay in tune. “It’s all about advocacy and representation.”
Brandt said the business community should identify what it wants to make happen, what it wants to prevent, and “never take what we have for granted.”
Even though the mining industry is riding high prices, it is harder now to develop mines in the north and make them economical. They are high risk and “require world class infrastructure,” he said. “Are we smarter this time?”
But he said Skagway was well positioned.
“We’ve stood the test of time in Skagway,” he said. “We are still the Gateway to the Yukon” and a popular cruise port. “We need to preserve and protect what we have.”
The chamber released its annual report. For a copy, stop by the chamber offices at 7th and State. – JB

NOTE - The 2009 cruise passenger estimates in this story were updated in the Sept. 26 issue. They will be slightly higher than 2008.

Obama supporters gather, want Palin to stay home and be governor

The Barack Obama campaign had already embarked on a historic Rural Outreach Program into various Alaska communities when news of Sarah Palin’s even more historic nomination as the Republican vice presidential candidate was announced by John McCain.
A few days later, in the midst of the Republican National Convention, an Obama organizer spoke at a rally in Haines and a volunteer orientation luncheon in Skagway.
Lauryn Bruck, a campaign worker from Chicago on loan to the Democrats’ “Alaska Campaign for Change,” met with a half dozen Obama supporters at the home of Reed and Marlene McCluskey on Sept. 3. She passed out buttons and signs, and talked about how to get people out to vote.
“It’s exciting to have someone from a national campaign in Skagway,” said local resident Charlotte Jewell. “It’s indicative of the fact that Obama wants to change things from the bottom up.”

Barack Obama supporters gather around a dining room table at the McCluskey home. JB

Jewell said Obama can inspire people in places like Skagway “to make the changes we need to make.”
Bruck said the purpose of her visit was not to organize, but to listen to local concerns and create a network for holding government accountable. She said voter registration drives were working nationwide to generate historic interest in the election and advised those present how to register new voters and get out the vote on election day, Nov. 4.
Reed McCluskey said there are challenges in Skagway with registering new voters at this time of year – especially targeting those summer workers who don’t list Skagway as their residence. They are often caught traveling home and arrive too late to register by the Oct. 15 deadline for the presidential election, he said.
Bruck said local voter registrars could help start the paperwork here and get it mailed off to a voter’s county clerk so it is waiting for the person when he/she gets home. Those present discussed how to start a voter registration drive, possibly at the library, and keeping it non-partisan.
Bruck also suggested they go through the phone book on election day and remind residents to go vote. She said the Obama staff in Alaska is not leaving, despite the Palin announcement.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the News asked those present how they felt about the Palin nomination.
“Just because people are happy with her as governor doesn’t mean she is ready to be vice president,” Jewell said. “She’s our governor. Let’s keep her there.”
McCluskey said Palin does not have the experience at the national and international level for the vice president’s job.
Others hoped the Palin announcement would spur Obama to make a trip north to Alaska.
“A stop in Alaska could mean a lot, even for just a couple hours on the ground,” said Steve SueWing.
Sharon Bolton said there are a lot of former Alaskans living in other states that would be favorably impacted by an Obama stop in Alaska.
But Jan Wrentmore said it would “probably be better to go where the votes are,” given Palin’s 85 percent approval rating in Alaska. She joked that the announcement would cost her. “I’ll have to send Obama more money.”
After the enthusiastic reception to Palin’s acceptance speech, Obama told NPR that he maybe “should have come up to Alaska.” But there was no indication that he would be coming now. – JB

BOROUGH: Rifle range bid allows two additives

The borough received just one bid for the new rifle range project near the old dump site, but it was a good one, said Borough Manager Alan Sorum at the Sept. 2 meeting of the Skagway Borough Assembly.
“I’m tickled we got a good bid and can get it out the door,” he said.
The base bid from TM Construction of Sitka was $188,347.40. With $249,000 budgeted for the project, there was room for two additives: $13,837 for noise baffles, and $45,100 for a covered firing line.
Sorum suggested the six remaining additives on the list could be placed in the 2010 budget: $8,200 for fixed rifle bench rests, $17,425 for sand line and geofabric membrane, $3,587 for range signs; $8,200 for swing gate and tie post; $4,059 for gravel surface parking area; and $14,350 for topsoil and seeding.
Assembly member Mike Korsmo said it would be nice to add bench rests this fall to make it usable, and Sorum said it possibly could be a winter project for the Public Works crew.
Members approved the bid with the first two additives, and also asked Sorum to send a letter to nearby property owners that construction is commencing on the new range and the old range will close soon.

BOROUGH: SFD equipment shuffle helps Kenny Lake

The assembly approved a request from the Skagway Fire Department to move forward with a sole source bid from Pierce for a $252,500 rescue truck.
Fire Chef Mark Kirko said $250,000 had been requested in the budget, but the original quote came in at $283,000. He said he was able to whittle down some extras, and there would be a $20,000 savings if the assembly ordered it now. Steel prices are expected to go up 7 percent in October, he said.
The assembly approved the request and will have a budget amendment on the agenda of its next meeting.
The assembly also approved putting the old 1970s ambulance out to bid, and offered the old fire engine to the Kenny Lake department for $1. The fire engine had originally been committed to the Carcross, Yukon department for $100, but Kenny Lake lost its engine recently during a vandalism spree, Kirko said. Replacement cost for the engine and other damaged equipment is $700,000, which Kenny Lake will try to recover through insurance. In the meantime, it needs an engine.
Assembly members suggested the engine be sold to Kenny Lake for a nominal fee like $1 but with the stipulation that once its replacement engine arrives, it be sent to Carcross which wants it as a back-up.
Kirko cited the need within the state as higher at this point, but the department also wants to help Carcross, which works closely with the local department on highway calls. – JB


With fall colors swaying in the breeze, Ben Seale of the WP&YR Highballers gets a drink from Andrew Houle during leg 8 of the Klondike Road Relay. See relay feature below. Photo by Kelly Roberts

• KLONDIKE ROAD RELAY: Great weather, northern lights add to nighttime excitement

• SPORTS & REC: Skagway girls, boys off to great cross-country start; Upcoming- Box of Rocks, Yukon paddling, Bike-a-thon

• FEATURE: Sarah Palin first lived here

• EDITORIAL: Gov. Palin - Low in the weeds no more

HEARD ON THE WIND: More confusion out there...

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