This river otter staked out its turf on a float recently at the Skagway small boat harbor. Andrew Cremata

Senator Murkowski pays a visit
Disasters affecting all decisions in Washington

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski visited Skagway Oct. 13 for the first time since her appointment and subsequent election to the seat occupied for many years by her father.
As the state’s first Alaskan-born U.S. senator, she said that she wanted to come home during the fall Columbus Day recess, and catch up with constituents. She could have made her Southeast swing during the summer recess, but knew that people in Skagway and other cruise ports were too busy.
“Like a good Alaska girl, I know when to come to visit,” she said to a largely appreciative crowd of nearly 100 Skagway and Haines residents at the WP&YR depot.
The event, hosted by the Skagway Chamber of Commerce, drew about 30 members of the Haines Chamber who came over on the Fairweather Express. In the audience were Rep. Bill Thomas and newly elected Haines Mayor Fred Shields.
Skagway Mayor Tim Bourcy was out of town, so City Councilmember Michael Catsi introduced the senator. Earlier, he had given Sen. Murkowski a tour of the clinic, which is due to be replaced. A new clinic’s design is being funded by federal Denali Commission funds, and the city is hoping for some construction funding as well (see below).
After thanking the Chamber for letting her eat lunch first, the senator launched into a number of issues and took questions from the public and the media. Here’s a summary of what she said on those issues:
• Katrina-Rita relief/effects – The hurricanes this fall pushed most other agenda items – including ANWR – back so the Congress could deal with the disaster. The initial tab of $70 billion is unlike anything the nation has seen, she said. For example, the cost of rebuilding Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was $44 billion. “All budgets are impacted,” she added. “We have to look under every rock to pay for these projects.” Later, in a press conference, she said Alaskans shouldn’t have to give back money in the massive transportation bill that passed last summer. She said the bill funds six years of projects that mostly address crumbling infrastructure nationwide, but in Alaska’s case, the money is going to projects for infrastructure “that we just don’t have.” For example, bringing up the controversial Gravina Bridge in Ketchikan, she said that when the airport was moved from Annette to Ketchikan over 30 years ago, the people of that area were promised a bridge. She’s not hearing a call from Alaskans to give the money back for everything from Juneau Access to the Gravina and Knik bridges. “In Ketchikan, they were saying, ‘Help us keep the bridge.’”
• Energy needs: ANWR, high prices, conservation – Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil is the “big agenda item” for the Alaska delegation, and Murkowski said Congress will take it up in a budget reconciliation package next month. For now, she’s letting the state handle the natural gas line issue. The spike in fuel prices has everyone worried, she said, noting that Skagway has the “dubious distinction” of having the highest gas price she has seen in Southeast.
The price increases were brought on not just from refineries shutting down due to the hurricanes, but from increased fuel consumption by India and China. The domestic supply is not meeting the nation’s needs, she said, and as a production state, Alaska can help. “If we had been allowed to open ANWR 10 years ago, we could have had an additional million barrels of oil coming in at a time when we really need it,” she said. Opening up ANWR now won’t reduce the price of gas, she cautioned, but it will help the situation in the future.
When asked why the Alaska delegation is perceived as not caring about global warming and conservation, she said that was not adequately reported in the Alaska press. “It’s inaccurate to say we don’t acknowledge it,” she said. “I’ve seen changes in this state.... It’s undeniable that it is getting warmer.” Murkowski added that scientists disagree on whether global warming is man-induced or cyclical, but she believes humans have had an impact. “You have to believe some of it is man-induced,” she said. “So what do we do?”
Alaska can contribute for the fossil fuel needs, while other practical alternatives are explored, she said. At a hearing before the recess, she noted that everyone who spoke – from environmentalists to oil producers – urged conservation. Senators were told that if everyone turned their thermostats down just two degrees, there could be a need for two less refineries. “We need to reduce our consumption, think seriously about conservation,” she said. “We as a nation don’t do that very well.”

Sen. Murkowski talks about energy conservation in a time of low supply, high prices and global warming. JB

• Supreme Court nominees, 9th Circuit break-up – Last month, the Senate held hearings on John Roberts’ nomination to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Roberts had been initially nominated to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but was moved up to the Chief Justice slot by President Bush after the death of William Rehnquist.
She said the process for approving Roberts was dignified, and hopes the process will be just as dignified for nominee Harriet Miers, although Murkowski said that she needs to get to know the president’s attorney.
Roberts was more well-known with his judicial background and familiar to Alaskans from his work on fishing issues.
“I think he will do well for the Supreme Court and for the country,” she said. “He’s a man who took the time to understand Alaska when he came up here.”
Murkowski co-sponsored legislation last week to split off Alaska from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, now based in San Francisco. Alaska and many western states with similar demographics would become part of a new 12th Circuit, reducing the court’s “cumbersome” case load. California, Hawaii and Pacific island territories would remain in the 9th Circuit. The new 12th Circuit, if approved, would sit in Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas.
• Iraq and the “War on Terror” – As Americans, everyone should be thinking about those serving in Iraq, she said, thanking White Pass for sending over an AED heart saving device to retired Skagway police sergeant Brent Moody, who is training emergency personnel in Iraq. Murkowski said she had known the Moodys since working with Kathy in Anchorage at Alaskans for Drug Free Youth. She said that for Brent Moody to take a year from his retirement to volunteer in Iraq was “what Americans are all about. I think about Brent every day, Kathy.” She learned that Moody has extended his stay till next spring, and she will continue to pray for his safe return home.
Later, in answering a Haines reporter’s question about how long the U.S. should remain in Iraq, Murkowski answered, “Until we get the job done.” When asked “What’s the job?”, she responded that Iraqis need to know they are in a safe environment. “In reality, it is not an Iraq War, it’s where we are fighting the war.... The terrorists are coming to Iraq to fight us there. It’s a difficult war when a suicide bomber is the weapon of choice.”
• New passport regulations – The war has prompted many new security regulations for ports and border towns, the most cumbersome of which is the requirement in 2007 for every American to have a passport, about $100 a pop. This new regulation is currently in the public comment phase before the Department of Homeland Security, and Alaskans need to contact them with their concerns, she said. She is doing what she can, but says people in Washington sometimes think she is “from a different planet” when she tells them about constituents in Skagway who cross the border to go to Whitehorse to shop or follow their kids to a basketball game. “I’m having to give a little instruction to some of my colleagues,” she said, “but I need some help.... your responses need to be heard on this issue.”
• Health care and first responders– Even though Hurricane Katrina has tightened the nation’s finances, health and emergency care needs are important elsewhere. She said the local clinic “clearly has seen better days... you are so beyond that facility.”
She said she will work with the Denali Commission which has built many wonderful facilities around the state. “We want to get to that point with Skagway,” she added. She has to educate colleagues constantly about communities like Skagway, a town of 800 that hosts up to 10,000 visitors a day from ships and RVs. “You’re expected to be a full service facility, and people are asking ‘where’s the pharmacy?’”
Fire Chief Mark Kirko asked the senator to prioritize FEMA grants for rural first responders, in spite of the financial constraints following the Katrina disaster.
“”You correctly state there’s going to be a squeeze,” she responded. “But with the terrorist threats, bottom line, Mother Nature can still come in,” and the nation can’t forget its first responders.
• Education: NCLB and school lunches – In the press conference, the senator said she was “very frustrated” with the federal Department of Education’s slow response to Alaska’s plan for dealing with the No Child Left Behind Act. There are apparently privacy issues with trying to supply information about students in small districts. “We need some administrative flexibility,” she said. The department is resisting waivers, preferring to wait until 2007 when the law can be changed, she said. “I’m all for giving policies a chance to work, but if you know they will not work, why not work to change it,” she said. “Kids need to know they are getting what they need.”
When told about the Skagway School Board’s recent dilemma of having to buy sometimes unhealthy federal food commodities while trying to provide more nutritious meals, Murkowski said it was an interesting situation that she would look into. She said she admires “innovative” districts like Mat-Su that have taken positive steps to have fresh valley-grown vegetables in the schools.

State asks judge to reconsider

LBC will reopen borough question if motion denied

Calling the recent court ruling in favor of Skagway over the Local Boundary Commission “a brief moment of glory,” City Manager Bob Ward told City Council Oct. 6 that the state had filed a “motion for reconsideration” with Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins.
But the LBC is prepared to reopen the Skagway borough petition in the event that its motion is denied.
Collins ruled on Sept. 20 that the LBC adopted its own regulation, without public input, when it denied Skagway’s application to be a borough in 2002 by saying the city needed to be larger than 443.1 square miles.
But in a six-page motion for reconsideration filed on Sept. 30, Assistant Attorney General Michael Mitchell said the court “overlooked the facts” regarding the LBC’s statement of decision, citing evidence before them that Skagway failed to meet the common interest standard.
“The LBC was deciding the proposal before it, and only that proposal, based on its understanding and application of valid constitutional and statutory standards, as well as validly adopted regulatory standards,” the motion reads. “Nowhere did it adopt a new standard requiring all boroughs to have an area larger than 443.1 square miles.”
The motion also stated that the court “overlooked or misconstrued” the constitutional authority for the LBC’s decision, which allows the commission to “interpret and apply” standards for borough incorporation contained in the state constitution. Such arguments were used in a previous decision in favor of a single-city Yakutat borough, though much smaller than requested.
The motion also said the LBC can use standards to determine what “is in the best interest of the state,” and distinguish between cities and boroughs.
Ward said the motion “seemed to be an awful bold step to take” for the state.
The judge has 30 days to deny or accept the motion. “We are on hold until we hear back from Judge Collins,” he said.
The LBC dealt with the prospect of their motion being denied at its most recent meeting on Oct. 9. The city’s lobbyist, John Walsh, was at the meeting and relayed this motion, which passed unanimously:
“If the Superior Court denies the motion for reconsideration of its Skagway decision, the LBC instructs its staff to reopen the question of Skagway borough incorporation in a manner, on an expedited basis set by the Chair of the Commission, (1) allowing supplemental updated briefing from the petitioner and any respondents; (2) allowing a supplemental report from the Department; (3) allowing an opportunity for the LBC to tour the area proposed for incorporation; and (4) setting a public hearing for the LBC to take testimony in reconsideration of the prior LBC decision regarding incorporation of a Skagway borough.”

UPDATE: The judge denied the motion as this issue went to press, and LBC has given Skagway 30 days to prepare for the next round. The city is protesting the short lead time. Details in Nov. 11 issue.

Skagway in 2008: ATIA chapter wins huge convention bid

Members of the Skagway chapter of the Alaska Travel Industry Association received an unexpected endorsement prior to its formal bid presentation for the 2008 convention.
Fairbanks, the only competition, got the nod to make the first presentation, and about 30 seconds after extolling the good things about her city, the presenter changed her tone and said Fairbanks supported the convention traveling around the state, and endorsed the bid by Skagway.
“The whole room stood and cheered,” said Skagway chapter president Christy O’Shaughnessy. “I just stood there and wondered, ‘What do I say now?’”
At that point, however, the local contingent had done plenty to win the hearts and votes of the tour industry delegates. A core group including O’Shaughnessy, Craig Jennison, Beth Cline, Kristin Wilkinson, and Jeremy Butzlaff had worked for months on the bid package, and made a separate pitch to the ATIA board in August.
As the convention opened in Girdwood at the end of last month, they were joined by Madame Dollie from Klondike Gold Dredge, who passed out buttons saying “The right way, the wrong way, the Skagway.” They also placed miniature “Go for the Gold” Goldschlager bottles and flyers in strategic locations, and rolled out a smart video presentation developed by PR Services.
“We did good,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We are excited about being able to bring the convention back to a small town.”
The ATIA (formerly known as AVA) convention has grown with the increase in visitors and tour businesses statewide. Skagway hosted the convention in 1984 and again in 1992, when about 275 people came to town and squeezed into the school gym for meals and major functions.
Delegates had a great time at those Skagway conventions and still talk about them, she said.
But for 2008, with a potential of hosting between 550 and 600 delegates, the Skagway organizers had to come up with some creative solutions.
“The biggest hurdle was being 300 rooms short,” O’Shaughnessy said.
So they called in support from the Alaska Marine Highway, which will leave a ship here, and small cruise lines Cruise West and America West Cruises also have indicated they will assist.
“We billed it as the “Broadway Dock Yacht Club,” she said. “If we have to, then we can house some people in Haines.”
Serving meals for 600 also will be a challenge, and the committee is looking at erecting a “canvas pavilion” that could run from the White Pass rail depot to AB Hall, she said. Such a structure was even required outside the Alyeska Prince Hotel in Girdwood, she noted. White Pass also has offered the Bennett train station for a meal function with a train tour.
Equipment from Whitehorse and cooks and wait staff from Juneau will likely have to be brought in to assist local staffs. It all happens the week after the last ship pulls away, so she hopes a lot of summer businesses will hold on to some staff and open for the convention.
“It’s going to take a huge team of people, and I’m looking forward to all of us being able to work as a team,” she said.
The enthusiasm for the convention is catching. Before the local chapter delegation headed to Girdwood, about 25 people showed up at the Red Onion one night to stuff packets, and about 30 were in Girdwood to assist the committee.
“It was incredible,” O’Shaughnessy said, the start of a “feel good kind of thing” that culminated with Fairbanks’s surprise endorsement.
“This is going to be a huge push for the town, and I encourage the whole town to be involved,” she said. – JB

Slimmer school food program returns next week

When the manager of the school food service program quit suddenly at the end of September – taking with him his wife, a part-time food service employee – the move could have effectively ended the program.
The district and community had other plans.
“It sounds as though the community wants the food program to continue,” said Superintendent Michael Dickens at a special meeting of the Skagway School Board Oct. 12. And after interviewing several candidates, the school board elected to hire local resident Paul Benner to manage the food service program.
But Dickens recognized that the program could not continue in the manner it had under the guidance of recently resigned manager and assistant Jaime and Julie Gagnier. With an expanded menu that included several options for each meal, Dickens said, “Personnel costs became very expensive. We had a high level program with restaurant quality food. What’s been offered isn’t always what kids want to eat.”
Member Darren Belisle agreed: “Kids don’t want chicken cordon bleu.”
Dickens said the larger issues were cost and portion size. “We looked at two options. Maybe not having a program. Kids have been bringing in nutritious lunches all on their own,” he said. “Or we could contract out as bid like we did for custodial.”
Both options had been explored before deciding to continue the food program.
Before Dickens had even posted the position, he received several phone calls from potential applicants. With interviews being conducted up until the scheduled school board meeting time, Dickens arrived with the recommendation of hiring Paul Benner.
“Paul spoke a great deal about portion control,” Dickens said. “He had the most background (of all the applicants) in that area.”
Those being interviewed had a variety of backgrounds, including levels of restaurant experience. Benner has been the chef at the Skagway Inn and handling bookkeeping at Lynch & Kennedy. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
According to the superintendent, Benner has placed emphasis on simplifying the menu and offering fewer choices with more emphasis on nutrition. His experience with reducing costs was perhaps most attractive to the board. In his position at Skagway Inn, Benner reduced costs for food from 58 percent to 27 percent.
“He doesn’t have much of a background with students,” said Dickens, “but he has plenty of experience with tourists.”
“Students are easier than tourists,” Board President Chris Ellis pointed out.
While board members seemed to be relieved to have the position of food service manager filled, there were still some concerns regarding the direction of the program. Chris Maggio said he was concerned the board as a whole hadn’t talked about the goals of the program.
Dickens assured him that the board would continue to be involved and would have another meeting with Benner to discuss the program in its entirety. Belise said that when it came to continuing the food service program, the goal was to “Get ‘em hired, let ‘em get their feet wet, and have another work session down the road with the person there so they can tell us instead of us guessing.”
For the interim, Dickens offered these guidelines: “Simplify. One hot entree, more nutritious meals. One day a week we’ll offer a school group the chance to do a hot lunch as a fundraiser, and allow the chef to do paperwork, ordering, inventory, planning, etc.”
Ellis said, “To continue the lunch program we had to hire someone. It seemed to me that Paul could come into the position the way it had been vacated and pick it up and run with it.”
In regards to the program itself, she said, “We realized we’d have to make modifications down the road.”
These modifications could involve not only what is served at lunchtime, but whether to continue breakfast service, and addressing the items served in the school store and vending machines.
“The community wants to see a change,” said Maggio. “There’s a greater awareness about kids and health, diabetes. I’d like to see the machines out of the rec room, see the junk food out of the student’s store.”
Despite the junk food in the store, a recent survey among the students found their top food choices were bagels and soup. Surprising, considering the less healthy options available. But member Julene Fairbanks was quick to point out that bagels aren’t exactly healthy. And, she said, another problem had arisen in the school. “The elementary kids are buying bagels and cream cheese during morning break and then aren’t eating lunch,” she said, which is only compounding unhealthy eating habits.
And although Dickens noticed that the students were bringing in healthy foods and becoming more health conscious overall, he did admit there was a tendency in the food service program to offer too many non-healthy items. But the option to simply withdraw from the program entirely, and let the students bring their own lunches, has far-reaching consequences.
“For any grants, you have to have a hot school lunch program,” he said. “The program funded the cell phones we have in the school in the event of an emergency lockdown. There’s the issue of how we get food here. We need a balance between healthy food and fundraising opportunities such as the Pepsi machine.”
Member Joanne Korsmo brought up the idea of parental responsibility in students’ food choices.”The machines can be there but if kids aren’t allowed to eat or drink those things at home, they won’t get them at school.”
Dickens agreed and added, “The teachers have been pushing the agenda of nutrition and healthier eating for quite a while.”
He credits both parent and teacher involvement in the trend of healthier eating within the school.
But Belisle said it wasn’t necessarily the school’s responsibility to ensure the students were eating properly. “Our job is to educate, not to feed them. You want them to make good choices here and they won’t learn not to get junk other places. There’s other stuff out there, and if they only see healthy food in school, they won’t know.”
Ellis agreed. “Our main focus is education. The parents’ job is to feed their children.”
Maggio, the proponent of eliminating all junk food from school grounds, agreed to continue the discussion at the next meeting. “Where we’re at and how we got here is a good thing,” he said.
And as for Benner and the massive undertaking he’s facing? Dickens is confident he’s up to the challenge. “Paul is the right person for right now.”


KIDDIE DE-CON – Members of the Skagway Fire Department wash down Wayne Greenstreet in a kiddie pool after he and fellow firefighter Zach Weber inspected a simulated leaking chemical tank during a hazardous materials drill at the conclusion of a week-long course funded from a grant by the Department of Homeland Security. Jeff Brady

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