In with New, Out with Old

Members of the Skagway Fire Department ceremonially push new Engine 4 into the fire hall, after pushing retired Engine 14 (right) out of its bay on Oct. 22. The movement of vehicles was preceded by an official page from dispatcher Sheryl Gladden. Fire Chief Mark Kirko said the traditional rinsing of the new vehicle was waived “because it got a natural washing outside today.” On hand to accept the old engine were Carcross Fire Chief Dave Welin and Yukon Deputy Fire Marshal Mike Marcuson. Engine 14 was initially offered to the Kenny Lake, Alaska department, which lost an engine that was vandalized this year. But Carcross also expressed an interest in it, so when Kenny Lake was able to acquire a new engine through insurance, the Skagway engine was available, said Kirko, adding he was glad they were able to “keep it in the neighborhood.” The Skagway and Carcross departments have worked closely over the years on various calls and transports up the highway and railroad. “It was a great offer,” Welin said. “We just have to make room for it now.” The engine will be prepped over the winter in the old Carcross fire hall and then placed into service after volunteers are trained on it. The new Skagway engine is ready to roll.

Photo by Jeff Brady

Game board to address new ‘cream-colored’ bear proposal

Skagway resident files proposal to better protect ‘Spirit Bears’


Among the more than 50 proposals before the Alaska Board of Game next month is one from a Skagway resident seeking a better definition of protected white-colored black bears to prevent the kind of shooting incident that occurred last summer.
The board will be meeting in Juneau on Nov. 7-11, but written comments on the proposals must be submitted by 5 p.m. today, Oct. 24, to be included in the board packets. Comments may be faxed to (907) 465-6094, according to a press release issued last week. Public testimony on the proposals also will be taken at the beginning of the first day of meetings, which starts at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 7 in Juneau’s Centennial Hall.
After the testimony, the board will spend the next three days addressing proposals in order. A complete list of proposals is available at:
Number 23 is the Skagway bear proposal and was submitted by Dyea Road resident John Warder. It seeks to “modify the regulation restricting the taking of white-phase black bear in Unit 1D as follows: We strongly recommend the Board of Game to direct the Department of Fish and Game to work with legal and regulatory staff to develop language which will be enforceable in a court of law to the effect of ‘A light-phase black bear that has cream coloration (or lighter) over more than 30% of its body may not be taken irregardless of any other coloration.’”
The regulation on the books, approved a year ago by the board, stated that only “white-colored black bears” in Unit 1D were to be protected. This was the result of a request from the City of Skagway to protect the “white-phase black bear” known locally as the Skagway “Spirit Bear.”
The issue, the proposal declares, is that “efforts to protect the cream-colored black bear known as the Skagway ‘Spirit Bear’ failed this spring when the department’s regulation for protection of white-colored black bears in Unit 1D proved unenforceable.”
On June 5, 2008, Dyea Road resident Thor Henricksen shot what he believed was a cinnamon bear that stared him down after snooping around a rabbit hutch on his property. It was shot in season, but many thought it was the Spirit Bear, and the hide was initially seized by an Alaska Fish and Wildlife trooper. However, after an inspection by the trooper and several Alaska Fish and Game biologists in Juneau, none would definitively conclude that the dead bear was “white.” They said it had multiple colors, including cinnamon and black. Because Henricksen had a hunting license and shot the bear in season, no charges were filed and the hide was released to him.
Photos circulated of the Spirit Bear when it was alive attested to its multiple coloration, but photos of the hide were never released to the public for comparison and remain sealed by the troopers. But because the Spirit Bear was never seen again, even biologists said the “light-colored” dead bear was “probably” the one intended to be protected.
The officials decided to come to Skagway on July 17 to clear the air. They admitted that the regulation was not enforceable on the bear that was shot. They had no explanation why the Board of Game changed the Skagway request last year from “white-phase” to “white-colored.”
They outlined steps for taking the matter up with the Board of Game, and also said they would file a report on the incident for the Nov. meeting and would look into how the white-colored Kermode bears in British Columbia are protected.
Reached this week, Warder said he was upset with the officials at the meeting for shirking their “responsibility to protect the bear.” He said that the regulation language needs to be changed, because similar language could not be enforced for a protected bear in Unit 1C near Juneau, nor for an albino moose near Fairbanks.
“Basically, the people need to know that the language the board came up with to protect our bear locally did not work,” Warder said. “Somebody shot it. I was so pissed off I felt it was important to do something.”
He said he filed the proposal request soon after the meeting.

Skagway resident Jan Wrentmore holds up photos of the "Spirit Bear" at the July meeting. She and others planned to send comments to the Board of Game. Jeff Brady

Warder said his proposed language basically gives the state something to protect that’s ‘eggshell white or whiter,” he said.
The proposal states it would give “a higher survivability rate to the unusually colored spirit bears, thereby protecting significant viewing opportunities for the more than 1 million people who visit Skagway each year. Without this regulation, these bears are selected against by individual trophy hunters and the genes are eliminated from the gene pool, to the detriment of the far greater majority who would enjoy viewing and photographing them.”
It states that those likely benefiting from the proposal would be “the native community who consider spirit bears to be sacred, school children, visitors on tour, tour operators, professional photographers, independent travelers, and local residents.”
It states that those likely to suffer from the proposed language would be “trophy hunters looking for odd colored black bear hides.” It concludes that the only other solution to consider would be “banning the hunting of any black bear that is not black or very dark brown,” but when interviewed, Warder said he does not want to see that happen.
He added that the municipality could take action by moving the line banning the discharge of firearms to 300 yards west of the Dyea Road. Right now the line is on the east side of the road. The bear shot on June 5 was west of the road. Anyone who shoots a bear legally in defense of life and property in that zone would not be able to keep the hide and meat, he said.
Another proposal of interest to Skagway residents is number 26, which would establish an archery hunt for one mountain goat Sept. 15 to Nov. 15 in Unit 1D between Taiya Inlet/River and the WP&YR railroad. This would allow bow hunters access to an area of high goat density, says the proposal, which was submitted by the Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Dyea emergency measures explored

Bridge options dwindle


While the borough assembly is preparing to make replacing the derated Taiya River bridge its top priority for the governor’s upcoming budget (see borough digest), local emergency services and others are planning for two years or more of reduced access in Dyea for their big equipment.
The bridge has been rated for 5 tons per axle – half of its original rating – but the results of a July inspection may derate it further. A final state report is due this week.
During a Public Safety Committee meeting at the Skagway Fire Hall on Monday, Fire Chief Mark Kirko unveiled a proposal for fire and ambulance calls across the bridge.
Kirko and Deputy Chief Wayne Greenstreet toured the area last week and did a head and building count in Dyea. They also looked under the bridge, and did not like what they saw – half-inch thick I-beams that had corroded to a depth of just an eighth inch in places.
Kirko said anyone who drives a heavy rig over the bridge is taking a big risk and could be liable if the span failed and if fuel got into the river and caused environmental damage.
Right now, only the chief’s command vehicle and a pick-up are legal, so the department is looking at these alternatives for fire suppression:
• provide smoke detectors and a 20-pound extinguisher for each dwelling. There are about 24 structures in Dyea, and 16 residents.
• use the forestry trailer with a pick-up with 200 gallons of water for an attack vehicle.
• place pumps at specified drafting (water intake) sites, and do their best in timing a consistent shuttle of water to fire scenes.
• extend summertime use of fire protection trailers used by the National Park Service.
• acquire the Webb property through lease or purchase to house a pumper (Engine 19) and water tanks that could also draft water from nearby West Creek.
The latter is the most expensive, but the most viable, Kirko said. It would give Dyea residents their own little fire hall, and could be watched by volunteers, Greenstreet added.
Dave Vogel of AP&T said the power company may be able to provide a couple of water tanks from the soon-to-be-completed Kasidaya hydro project, but they’d have to bring them in via landing craft to the Dyea flats.
Committee chair Mark Schaefer said he would have to take the ideas to the assembly table.
As for EMS responses, Kirko noted that both current ambulances are above the load limit, so they are looking at ways to move patients in other vehicles to and across the bridge, where the ambulance would be waiting on the south side. However, they at this time have no vehicle that would allow transport of a patient in the supine position.
Kirko is working with the police department to see if they can locate some temporary scales so other users can weigh their vehicles while loaded and unloaded.
There have been inquiries from fuel, propane, and gravel truck operators. Another looming concern is snow removal and sanding on the other side of the bridge this winter. DOT foreman Keith Knorr said he is working on it.

World record egg toss in the books

“It’s official!” Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue exclaimed in a call to the newsroom from the post office on Monday morning. “We have the Guinness World Record!”
The official certificate (see page 5) arrived in Skagway on Oct. 20 with a letter from the GWR’s North American adjudication executive.
“We are pleased to confirm that you have set the new Guiness World Record for “Most people tossing eggs,” began the letter from Danny Girton Jr., dated Sept. 16.
It went on to say the official record for the most people tossing eggs is 1,162, set this past July 4, 2008 by the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After the morning parade, a crew of volunteers commandeered by Donahue and others, fanned through the crowd and into businesses to sign up egg-tossers. They lined up on Broadway from Second to Sixth avenues, and tossed.
An initial unofficial count was as high as 1,422, but a check later of all the sign-in sheets resulted in the lower official number. Still, 1,162 was miles ahead of the previous record of 336 set by Wrangell.
The GWR letter states that the official notice does not automatically guarantee entry into the world-famous annual book, but the record will be considered in all future publications and products. The certificate allows SCVB to use the GWR logo and trademark and use of the organization’s community website to upload videos and other testimonials about the record-setting event. SCVB is working on uploads for the site.
For the record, the only egg remaining intact after all 581 were tossed, belonged to local residents Tanner Hanson and Mike Healy, who won the competition on a toss of more than half a block.

Municipality, Diocese waiting on re-evaluation of old mission tract

Members of the Skagway Borough Assembly on Oct. 17 had their first meeting with a represenative of the Juneau Diocese of the Catholic Church on the prospect of purchasing the old Pius X Mission property, now home to Garden City RV Park.
Jim Donaghey, the business manager for the Diocese, confirmed that they are interested in selling, and actually had advertised a price of $1.85 million four years ago. He said that price had not changed, and was based on the value established then by appraiser Charles Horan, when the Diocese thought they had a buyer.
Horan is also the muncipality’s assessor, and his firm is currently finalizing a total re-evaluation of all property in the borough. At the suggestion of assembly member Dave Hunz, everyone at the table agreed that rather than go out and spend $10,000 on a separate appraisal for the property, it would be prudent to wait for the new assessment figure. A market value appraisal is required in the new property acquisition ordinance that was passed by the assembly on Oct. 16.
“When you get that number, call and tell me,” said Donaghey.
He described how it is not his decision, and he must first take a new price proposal to the Diocese finance council, which then advises the bishop, who also gets input from Southeast Alaska priests. The final decision is then made by the Archbishop.
Finance chair Dan Henry said they were already over one hurdle. “We have a motivated seller and a willing buyer,” he said.
Mayor Tom Cochran said that even though a voter referendum is not required, he wanted the public to be “fully involved in the process.” Once a price is agreed on, then there would be a public hearing, or maybe even a town meeting on the subject, he said, including its proposed uses.
John Garland, who has leased the property for several years for his RV park, said he is committed to operating it one more year to satisfy advance caravan bookings.
Garland said about 30 seasonals also live at the park now, but he expects maybe half that many next year.
“If we force them out, they have to go somewhere,” Hunz said.
L.C. Cassidy added, “Where do the RVers go, it’s not just seasonals.”
Several at the table suggested the RV park probably should operate at least three years – even if the municipality has to run it – so someone else can have time to get into the RV business. Another concern was that the Pullen Creek RV Park lease may not be extended due to the expansion of the small boat harbor, and that would leave even more RVers needing a place to park.
“If we operate it, we need to take a hard look at revenues and expenses,” Hunz said. “Voters will want to know if it’s making money or losing money.”
Suggested long-term uses for the three blocks have included starter condos for first-time housing buyers, a new senior center or senior housing units, a public safety building, or a combination of some of the above.
They said a boxholder should be sent out when the borough is ready to have a public meeting.

BOROUGH – SRC benefit removed

On a recommendation from the Finance Committee, the assembly voted unanimously Oct. 16 to dissolve the benefit built into the FY2009 budget that would allow borough employees free use of the Skagway Rec. Center and a 50 percent family discount. The effective date is Nov. 1.
Before the assembly was a string of e-mail correspondence dating back to last December between Borough Manager Alan Sorum, Treasurer Cindy O’Daniel, and SRC Director Katherine Nelson which showed how the benefit developed and was proposed at budget time. The argument for the benefit was it would promote a healthier work force and reduce the number of sick leaves.
In a memo to the assembly on March 9, the benefit was proposed. It would give employees the option of having a free SRC membership starting July 1, and a 50 percent discount for their families. To compensate for an expected loss of revenue, Nelson suggested a reduction of $5,000 in membership revenues in the budget. The e-mail with the attached memo went to Sorum, O’Daniel, assistant manager Michelle Calver, and Parks and Rec. chair Mike Korsmo. But although the memo was addressed to the full assembly, it never made it to the table for discussion before the budget was passed. But the revenue reduction was in the budget the assembly passed in June.
“The biggest problem I have was it was never opened to the table or for public comment,” said Mayor Tom Cochran. “This just kind of happened.”
When word of the benefit spread toward the end of the summer, several assembly members said they heard objections from the public.
L.C. Cassidy said the arguments for the benefit were good, but she could not support it because it did not go through the public process.
“I did hear a bit about it and thought it was a good idea ... but it got mis-communicated” during the busy budget season, she said.
One member of the public spoke to the issue. John Harris, whose wife is borough clerk, said his family took advantage of the discount, bought a quarterly membership, and liked going there. He suggested that the SRC offer the facility for a month for free for all Skagway residents. “The whole thing is getting people to go there,” he said.
Finance chair Dan Henry said the issue could be revisited for next year when they meet with employees soon on possible changes in their health insurance deductible and benefits.
The Recreation Board recently recommended free use of the SRC for resident senior citizens over the age of 65, but Henry said no action was needed because the Elks had a program to pay for senior memberships.

BOROUGH – C.I.P. list crafted

Sorum outlined a three-tiered proposal for the borough’s Capital Improvements Priority (CIP) list for the state:
• Wave barrier project would be the top priority for legislative funding.
• Sewer treatment plant upgrade from secondary to tertiary treatment would be the top priority for money from the cruise ship tax regional fund.
• Taiya River bridge replacement or upgrade would be top priority for the governor’s DOT budget.
Sorum added that smaller projects could be added to the legislative list, but recommended that the three big requests be adopted by resolution. There was no objection to bringing three separate resolutions forward at the next meeting on Nov. 6.
Members discussed how the state had dropped Skagway projects off its State Transportation Improvements Priorities (STIP) list in the past, and they needed to get back on there. Aside from the bridge, they mentioned a bike path along the Klondike Highway from the Skagway River bridge to the Dyea Road.
Dave Hunz said there is a precedent for moving a Skagway item up the STIP for safety. When the public asked for the Pat Moore pedestrian bridge over the river, Skagway offered to pay for a portion of it. “We have to make the first step and get it on the STIP,” he said.

BOROUGH – Sales tax holiday starts Nov. 1

The Skagway Borough Assembly met in a brief special session Oct. 17 to enact a sales tax holiday for the final two months of the year.
The winter 3 percent tax will drop to nothing starting Nov. 1 and run through Dec. 31.
“With the atmosphere countrywide, if there is something we can do, we should do it,” said Finance Committe chair Dan Henry.
He said the assembly could later consider extending the holiday a month or two into the new year, but he wants to see the 2008 first quarter numbers first.
“Whatever we do, it should be on a monthly basis,” said Colette Hisman.

SCHOOL – No changes in board officers

The Skagway School Board will have the same officers for the coming year, but there will be some shifting of committee assignments.
At a special post-election reorganization meeting Oct. 14, re-elected members Chris Maggio and Joanne Korsmo were sworn in. The board then voted to organize with the same slate of officers: Darren Belisle, president; Christine Ellis, vice president; Maggio, treasurer; Robert Murphy, clerk; and Korsmo, member.
Murphy requested to be on the negotiations committee, and he will take Belisle’s place who switched with Murphy on the curriculum committee. The committees look like this:
• Negotiations - Ellis and Murphy
• Policy - Korsmo and Murphy
• Evaluations - whole board
• Curriculum - Maggio and Belisle
• Voc. Ed. - Maggio and Murphy
• Staff relations - Maggio and Ellis
• Legislative liaison - Korsmo.

SCHOOL - Planned absence form worked over

After the short special meeting, the entire elementary staff sat in on a work session with the board on a revision of the planned absence form. After concerns were expressed by board members at the Sept. meeting, teachers came back with some new language.
Under the heading “Vacation Work Procedure”, the proposed new form now states the following:
“a) Teachers will provide vacation work for up to two weeks of vacation.
b) On the third week of vacation, parents/students must contact the teacher/school for additional assignments.
c) Student will receive class work no later than the last day of attendance before vacation.
d) Parents need to schedule an appointment with the teacher(s) for vacations that extend beyond two weeks.”
The teachers had originally proposed providing work for just the first week of a vacation week, but compromised on two weeks after one board member suggested it be pushed to three weeks.
Board member Robert Murphy said he would still like to see work given for three weeks of vacation, but teachers countered that requiring the parent meeting for longer vacations would help set up a communication plan for parents getting assignments after the second week.
Teacher Vivian Meyer said providing work on the day before a student goes on vacation would be consistent with the high school’s policy.
The teachers said some parents had taken advantage of the system in the past by trying to get all of the vacation work well in advance of the time they left, so students could do the work before they left on vacation.
Denise Caposey and Meyer stressed that the vacation assignments are “class work” and not home work, and can change depending on how a class is progressing from week to week.
They noted that lesson plans for each week can be changed, and are not required by their negotiated agreement to be submitted for the week until Monday morning. Most teachers usually come in on weekends to do them, but they also find doing a lot of extra work for students going on vacations themselves between mid-October and mid-January.
Meyer said half of her class was gone last November, and it took an enormous amount of time for her to get students the vacation work before they left. Parent Nan Saldi said it would be good to have the work a few days ahead of time, so parents can review it and get back to teachers with questions.
Teachers said they were willing to be flexible, but said the parent meeting should be mandatory and details can be worked out with them at that time. Murphy said it may be difficult for parents to receive an e-mail or get to a Kinkos on a certain day to receive a fax. Parent Karl Klupar said they should establish a “preferred method of contact” for getting assignments from teachers after the first two weeks.
Board member Chris Ellis noted that the form constitutes guidelines and not board policy, so there is room for flexibility, but she also noted that “parents make the decision to take the kid out – they need to be responsible.”
Murphy said the teachers presented a good argument for the two week structure. The new language is to be formally adopted at the Oct. 28 regular meeting.
The discussion then moved to “the culture of Skagway” and how parents here take their kids out of school for vacations more so than most districts. It is likely to be one of the topics at next month’s community forum. The board is expected to add more topics to the forum at its Oct. 28 meeting.

CVB - Visitation down about 6 percent

The Skagway CVB this week released the visitor statistics for the 2008 season, showing an overall decrease of 5.87 percent.
The final count of visitor arrivals was 878,960 which was still the third highest on record. Only the record 933,810 in 2007 and 902,779 in 2005 were higher.
Those arriving on cruise ships (not counting crew) totaled 765,492, off 6.73 percent from 2007’s high of 820,744. Numbers also were down in most other sectors. Alaska Marine Highway arrivals were down 9.37 percent, Klondike Highway arrivals were down 4.4 percent, WP&YR inbound traffic was down 15.13 percent, and air traffic was off 22.56 percent.
The only increase posted was from the Haines-Skagway fast ferry which went from 5,069 recorded arrivals in 2007 to 13,763 in 2008.
The complete chart will be posted with annual visitor spending statistics in the first issue in March 2009.

Bill Fletcher and Charlotte Jewell pose after the awards night presentation. – Clark James Mishler, courtesy of ATIA

CVB - Charlotte Jewell wins Chuck West Award

Charlotte Jewell of Skagway was presented the prestigious Chuck West Award at the annual Alaska Travel Industry Association convention earlier this month.
According to the ATIA website, the award is given by the West family each year to honor “a new pioneer in the industry who has exhibited entrepreneurial creativity, innovation and courage in the introduction of a successful new product for the benefit and enjoyment of Alaska’s visitors.”
In presenting the award, Bill Fletcher, a former business associate of Jewell’s who is now with Holland America, said Jewell had re-invented the visitor experience at Jewell Gardens over the past year and a half with the addition of a glass-blowing studio and theatre.
He described how Jewell started out acquiring a portion of the old Henry Clark farm across the river in 1996, and over the next 10 years “poured her heart and soul into creating what is now known as Jewell Gardens, Alaska’s most spectacular organic show garden. Despite numerous setbacks and disappointments along the way, Charlotte Jewell never lost site of what she was determined to create.”
But he noted this hard work was not why she was receiving the award.
“By 2007 the gardens were finally maturing and it was time to take the visitor experience to an entirely new level,” Fletcher explained. “Inspired by glassblowing artist Dale Chihuly’s installation of magnificent hand-blown glass art in the major botanical gardens of the world, Charlotte and her husband Jim decided to build Southeast Alaska’s first public glassblowing studio – in the heart of their beautiful gardens.”
As a result of this vision and innovation, he continued, “Skagway is now the only place in the world where cruise visitors can actually blow their own glass on a shore excursion, or watch an up-close professional glassblowing demonstration.”
He noted that after the successful 2007 season, they added a second studio this past summer.
Reached this week, Charlotte Jewell said she was happy to receive the award for a new product. She said she had an inkling something might be happening a couple hours before the awards night, but “I’m not used to getting up in front of 600 people.”
The late Chuck West was the pioneer tour operator in the state, and his wife Marguerite carries on the award, which includes a $5,000 prize.


WHALE OF A TIME – Skagway's Cindy Godbey, aka 'Dawson Dolly', visited Barrow recently, just in time to see the last of the fall whale hunt and hang with the polar bears before they hit the Arctic Ocean ice for the winter. See story in features. Photo by Patti Moss

ELECTION FORUM: State Senate and House Candidates

• FAR NORTH FEATURE: Dawson Dolly woos Barrow polar bears, politicians, whale hunters

• SHS ACTIVITIES: DDF, Wrestling, Volleyball seasons begin; Intramural encounters

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