Skagway School kids run and jump and play for the camera inside a huge inflated salmon that was part of the Voices in the Wind presentation at the school on Sept. 16. The salmon sustained some damage en route to Skagway, but local resident Chris Maggio came to its rescue with duct tape so it could stay inflated. The multi-faceted, interactive event emphasized the arts as the mode of expression for raising awareness about climate change. See more photos and coverage in Features below.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Assembly will proceed with negotiations for old Mission tract
Garden City RV park to be part of sale
By JEFF BRADY
The Municipality of Skagway is looking at purchasing one of the largest pieces of property in the valley the old Pius X Mission tract that has been occupied by Garden City RV Park for more than a decade.
The property spans three city blocks in the middle of town and may be offered to the borough in the next few weeks by its owners, the Juneau Diocese of the Catholic church. Due to a miscommunication, Diocese representatives were not in Skagway for a work session with the Skagway Borough Assembly on Sept. 12, but assembly members went ahead and discussed the proposition with RV park owner John Garland.
Garland has a long-term lease with the Diocese, and part of any sale would be buying out his business as well, assembly members learned. The figure tossed around at the meeting was $1.85 million, but Garland explained that both the borough and Diocese have asked for an appraisal, so a price has not been set yet.
The property has been listed by a Juneau real estate agent within the past two years, generating about 100 calls, said Garland, but no one has ever reached the point of making an acceptable offer.
Mayor Tom Cochran and assembly members debated whether they should have a plan for the property before purchasing it. All agreed they should continue to pursue it, but some wanted a public hearing first. That was due to happen at this Thursdays meeting (rescheduled from Sept. 18) after this issue went to press.
At the work session, some talked about their vision for the property. Mark Schaefer said they should have a plan in place. Dave Hunz wanted the street right-of-ways back. Colette Hisman said at least half of the property should go back to the public on the tax rolls. Mike Korsmo liked the idea of having it available for more affordable housing. Dan Henry said the central location would also make it possible to relocate the city shops, construct a public safety building, or build a senior center.
Henry didnt think they had to wait for an appraisal. Do we pursue it? Absolutely, yes! he said.
Cochran said he wasnt sure if a plan was needed beforehand. Its the largest piece of property in the valley, he said. Its important to go after the property because of its size and location.
But the mayor added, They need to make a proposal and get back to us.
Garland said the normal procedure would be for the buyer to put up earnest money, and then the sale details would be ironed out. But assembly members didnt want to go any further without hearing more from the public first, and then see what the Diocese representatives had to offer them.
SRC benefit questioned
During discussion period at the Sept. 12 special meeting of the Skagway Borough Assembly, Colette Hisman was concerned that the recent addition of free Skagway Recreation Center memberships to the benefits package for municipal employees in the FY09 budget never received public input.
She said it "looks like we were doing ourselves a favor" and suggested placing the topic on the next assembly meeting agenda.
Dave Hunz said the issue for taxpayers is "why pay taxes for the facility when others get to use it for free." He added that the matter got his attention when he received a free membership card.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he was concerned that members of the Recreation Board never weighed in on the issue, but Borough Manager Alan Sorum said the issue was "beyond their purview." He said the benefit was snuck into the budget process, but never was an issue during Rec. Center budget meetings.
When asked to explain how the benefit came about, SRC director Katherine Nelson e-mailed the following:
"From my understanding, it started with several employees
verbalizing their wish to have use of the recreation center as part of their benefit package. Alan Sorum and Cindy O'Daniel (treasurer) thought it was a good idea because it would have minimal financial impact and could develop a healthier, happier workforce. We decided that I should write a proposal to Assembly so I did. I sent it to Alan who then gave it to assembly. I did not hear anything about it for a long time until I received an e-mail from Cindy during the FY09 budget cycle asking Alan if we were moving forward with this benefit. He said the assembly did not oppose this proposal and so Cindy worked it into the budget."
She added that the municipality instructed her to draft a memo to include with employee paychecks, which she did. "Since then people have been either very happy or very upset," Nelson concluded.
Sorum said the new benefit item can be placed on an agenda in the future along with proposed changes in health care benefits for next year.
Hisman said the rec. center benefit should end unless it is adopted in the next budget. - JB
New draft schedule shows 2009 numbers could be slightly more than 2008
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue sent out an e-mail last week saying that the passenger numbers for next season will be closer to this years, not a return to the higher capacity he reported at a recent chamber meeting.
Donahue said he had received initial estimates from White Pass when he made the chamber announcement, but the draft 2009 cruise schedule sent to his office by Cruise Line Agencies last week had different totals.
He said he was wrong, and was sorry for the confusion.
The numbers are just barely higher than this year, he wrote. Capacity for next year is estimated at 763,796, an increase of just 799.
The final numbers for 2008 are not in yet, but cruise numbers were estimated to be down about 61,000 from the peak year 2007, which saw the total number of actual cruisers hit 810,744.
The 2009 draft schedule is available at AB Hall. It does not yet include the smaller ships that usually dock at the ferry terminal, and a final schedule will not be confirmed until spring.
The first ship is scheduled very early an April 19 visit by the Balmoral but the 2009 season overall is a little slower kicking in. The first week in May has just four ships, and the following week has mostly one or two-ship days. The first big week begins May 17. From then on, the schedule mirrors this years, but Mondays are lighter.
Still, some bigger ships are coming, giving Skagway comparable numbers to this season. The 1,950-passenger Sea Princess will take the place of the 680-passenger Tahitian Princess for six voyages, and Holland Americas Zuiderdam will replace the Zaandam, with 400 more passengers each Tuesday. But overall, Princess will bring 11,180 less people, while Holland Americas capacities will be up by 8,869 and Royal Carribbeans ships could bring 7,371 more people, according to a Skagway CVB chart.
The draft schedule has the season ending a few days earlier as well, on the three-ship Wednesday, Sept. 23. This years final ship is Saturday, Sept. 27.
Early sales tax numbers show spending has been off this year.
Let us all hope and pray that this economic downturn is short lived, Donahue wrote. With the sharp declines in discretionary spending and disposable income everything is getting more and more competitive. The cruise lines spend tens of millions of dollars marketing Skagway and Alaska to the world.This year we saw heavily discounted fares and more of the same can be expected for next season.We do not want to lose any more of our market share. JB
PERMITS ISSUED A year ago, the last drinks were poured and the lights went out on a Skagway institution, Moes Frontier Bar. Recently, demolition permit signs went up in the window, causing a bit of a stir in the community. The demolition permit was actually granted earlier this year for the liquor store (south) portion of the building, but the official building permit for the entire project was not approved until August 15, according to documents provided by the boroughs new permitting official, Emily Rauscher. The building permit allows for the demolition and reconstruction of the non-historic south portion, and the restoration and remodeling of the historic north portion, the Moes bar section which dates back to 1903. The Historic District Commission approved the plans last Oct. 22, but the plans did not receive State Fire Marshal approval until Aug. 1 of this year. HDC chair Casey McBride said the architects did a good job of documenting the history of the buildings with photos. The restored building will look more like the original Keelar the Money King building that was there, he said. However, it will have a new name, the Skagway Waldorf Building. It will be built by Pollard Construction of Juneau for new owners Timos and Ariana Giamakidis of T&A Rentals. JB
BOROUGH: West Creek hydro M.O.U. for grant approved by assembly
The Municipality of Skagway and Alaska Power and Telephone have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to apply for grant funding for a West Creek hydroelectric project.
A draft MOU was reviewed and approved by the Skagway Borough Assembly during a special meeting on Sept. 12. The agreement states that both parties desire to apply for grant money from the Alaska Energy Authoritys Renewable Energy Fund to determine the feasibility of a project on West Creek, including conceptual design and permitting. It states that AP&T has qualified staff to complete the grant application by a funding consideration deadline of Nov. 10.
The grant application is expected to cost up to $10,000, and the municipality would be responsible for 50 percent, up to $5,000. If the costs go beyond $10,000, then AP&T will pick up the excess.
The second page of the agreement discusses the land being proposed for development on both sides of West Creek. This is part of the municipalitys entitlement lands from the state. Skagway has applied for patent to those lands, but does not own them yet.
The agreement addresses the need for the state to survey the lands and the municipality to continue to pursue the patent: The Municipality agrees to continue to pursue patent to this property, and upon receiving patent, will confirm to AP&T municipal ownership on both sides of the West Creek River at contour elevation 500 to allow the eventual construction of a diversion dam at this elevation.
The agreement allows AP&T input into preliminary and final design of a project and would allow the company to operate and maintain a facility. Construction would take place under management of the municipality through a competitive bid process or at the municipalitys option AP&T may be engaged for the the project construction, the MOU states.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said there were some concerns from attorneys about the land issues, and all agreed that municipal ownership of the approximately six parcels was necessary. The borough will try to move forward with a request for proposals for a survey with instructions from the state Department of Natural Resources.
We need to guarantee ownership of the land and pursue getting title to it, Sorum said. All we can do now is say its something we will pursue.
Borough Clerk Marj Harris said the land entitlement process is long. As a city, it took Skagway seven years to obtain title to 980 acres.
Mayor Tom Cochran said they were just applying for a grant at this point. It does not guarantee we will receive a grant, he said. Theres still a long way to go.
Cochran, who works for AP&T, said it could take another five years to obtain a federal permit for a hydroelectric project.
West Creek has been identified as a possible hydro site for many years, but AP&T sought other sites in the region ahead of it Goat Lake and Kasidaya Creek to mostly eliminate Skagway and Haines dependence on diesel generation.
At a series of meetings this summer, AP&T regional manager Stan Selmer identified West Creek as a candidate for the new state renewable energy program, because it could generate enough power to allow one or two large cruise ships to plug in while in port, thus reducing emissions.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said West Creek is a worthwhile project on that basis, and may help pressure the state into conveying the property to the borough. He also said some of the states cruise ship tax money could go toward a project.
No one at the sparsely attended special meeting got up to address the issue. Cochran said the project can be part of the comprehensive plan update process and go through more public hearings. At that point, the public can weigh in on the question of whether the possibility of having ships plugged in is worth the community giving up a little bit of land.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz was a bit skeptical of spending $5,000 that could be perceived as helping a private company. He said he had received calls from people who wondered what the project would cost the tax payers.
How do we benefit? he asked. We have hydro now.
Korsmo said the benefit would be the publics health.
But Hunz wondered how the excess power would be sold, and if Skagway could get some of the money that comes from the cruise ships. Cochran said Skagway, as the land owner, would be a stakeholder and that some revenue should come back to the municipality. He suggested a public-private partnership .
Sorum said he does not see the municipality financing any part of the project it would all come from state funds if the state found it feasible. Selmer has estimated construction would cost $50 million.
When it came down to a vote, all five members present voted to approve the MOU.
BOROUGH How to sell Nahku lots
A municipal land sale on Dyea Point will not happen until a road is put into the new Nahku subdivision, but members of the Skagway Borough Assembly debated Sept. 12 whether they could offer it for less than appraised value.
The idea emerged last spring after the high appraised value prices on land in the Dyea subdivision sale scared away potential local buyers and then many did not sell to those who were selected in a lottery. Many went to Yukoners, and only two followed up to purchase them.
Assembly members were less inclined to discount the Nahku lots, however.
That particular property is pretty valuable, said Mike Korsmo.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum agreed, saying the appropriate place for selling discounted land may be the lots in Dyea that did not sell the first go-round.
Korsmo asked if they could hold a real lottery where people would buy a ticket for a premium price, and those selected would win the land.
But Dave Hunz cautioned against selling land for less than appraised value, or giving it away.
The whole idea of getting the property (from the state) was a revenue-generating decision, Hunz said. Granted, Id like to give people free land, but they could turn around and sell it (for a profit).
Members talked about getting more land to young people for starter homes, but said the place for that strategy may be the Garden City RV land downtown which could have a section reserved for town houses or condos (see related story).
Borough clerk Marj Harris said the goal of a Nahku subdivision sale this fall is not going to happen since the road work has not commenced.
Hunz said it would be better not to rush the road with winter coming, and the project likely taking two months. He suggested that brush clearing could begin in March and then the road could be constructed in the spring.
Mayor Tom Cochran said he would rather see a sealed bid sale or auction the next time the borough offers up land, saying the lottery did not work that great. JB
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
LIGHT SHOW - On a rare clear evening in mid-September, three cruise ships light up the Skagway harbor. New estimates are in for 2009 and visitation could be slightly higher next year. See story above. - Photo by Jeff Brady
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