A juvenile northern harrier dines on a meal of fresh Coho salmon in Pullen Creek. The raptor is considered a migratory visitor in Skagway but like many tourists could not resist the temptation of a little fresh fish. Silvers are not the only fish running in Pullen. Dolly Varden char are in full spawning regalia and can be seen courting one another from the banks. Andrew Cremata
Juneau Access EIS awaits ruling on 4(f) language
FHWA meets with DOT on Dewey Lakes
By JEFF BRADY
The Alaska Department of Transportation has held up release of the draft Juneau Access Environmental Impact Statement pending a review this week by a legal team from the Federal Highway Administration on the status of the Dewey Lakes Recreation Area.
Following the Oct. 5 advisory vote, in which Skagway voters favored improved ferry service over a road, the City Council approved an ordinance adopting a management plan to preserve the Dewey Lakes Recreation Area.
Prior to the votes, DOT officials actively campaigned against calling it a recreation area, saying such language would constitute a 4(f) situation in the federal highway code. Basically, if there is a park or recreation area identified in a transportation project, planners must explore reasonable and prudent alternatives. DOT offiicals have said that could mean a tunnel that would greatly add to the cost of the project.
Following the Skagway vote and council decision, The Skagway News sought an interview with DOT Commissioner Mike Barton, who had been in discussions over the past few weeks with Mayor Tim Bourcy about setting up a Dewey Lakes working group. Instead, the News received a call last Friday from Southeast Region Director Gary Paxton, who said he had been designated the spokeman for DOT on the issue.
Concering the election, Paxton said, That is Skagways business and we are a bystander. But he had problems personally with the wording of the question, even though it was the same asked of Juneau voters a few years ago. Given a choice of options for improving access to Juneau, 62 percent of Skagway voters favored improved ferry service over a road.
The notion of improved ferry service is doubtful, Paxton said, adding that the department is working to improve the system, but it is a big challenge.
Regarding the Special Management Area for Dewey Lakes, Paxton said the departments position is unchanged. DOT had hoped for a Joint Management Agreement in April to allow a right of way through the Dewey Lakes area.
Im not fussing but I believe we should have done that, Paxton said.
He said the department wanted to separate the right of way and mitigation issues, rather than see an official designation of the recreation area. Thats why we sent people up there to talk about the consequences.
City officials countered that without a special management designation as a recreation area, DOT could have put off mitigation issues if funding for the proposed road project came up short.
Paxton said FHWA officials from California were due in Juneau this week to look at the areas possible 4(f) status. He acknowledged that the Council vote was not a favorable action for us, but DOT will continue to pursue its interests in a collegial and fair way so we dont lose right of way status to 4F.
Even before the Skagway vote, DOT had moved to begin surveying a possible right of way for the road.
We have gone through the necessary steps to allow us to go to the city and pay for the right of way if that eventuality should be required, he said. We are prepared to do that.
Paxton said the Skagway votes for sure had delayed the release of the Juneau Access EIS.
FHWA wants to make a decision on the 4(f) status of Dewey Lake before we release the EIS to the public, Paxton said.
A federal legal team from California was due to meet with FHA offiicials from Alaska and Reuben Yost, the DOTs Juneau Access project manager. FHWA also will look at a historic landmark question raised by the National Park Service. Paxton said a determination will then be made and incorporated into the document, which he expects now will be released in mid-November.
The draft EIS was originally due to be released in June, but Paxton said the department has worked hard to make sure it publishes a document that is compelling in the amount of detail and information on everything from viewsheds and avalanche control to economic impacts.
Paxton acknowledged that the anticipated economic impacts are somewhat subjective. Without going into detail, he said the McDowell Group had worked up economic models for the EIS, looking at month-by-month traffic patterns and other factors, and laid out favorable and adverse impacts. He said McDowell consultants will be on hand to answer questions and peel back the onion at public hearings that should be held early in the new year.
Weve gone out of our way to make sure it is balanced and every known question is answered, Paxton said.
Once all the comments are gathered, then it will go back to more agency review and the FHA to make sure there are no other mitigation issues, he said.
My aim is to work with Skagway and be straight forward, responsive and friendly, Paxton concluded. Hopefully we will go forward, whether we agree or disagree.
City Manager Bob Ward this week said the city was not aware of the meetings between the FHWA and the state and had not been invited to attend. Mayor Bourcy was out of town on vacation.
Voters head back to polls on Dec. 14
Special electionon city government
By JEFF BRADY
A petition for a referendum asking voters to repeal Skagways current form of government has been certified and a special election will be held on Dec. 14.
The petition was certified by City Clerk Marj Harris on Oct. 15, a week after it was turned in by local resident Bert Bounds. Prior to a special City Council meeting on Oct. 18, Bounds said he turned in petitions with 146 signatures. Only 85 signatures of registered voters were required to put the question before voters, and Bounds said he could have had more.
The question will ask: Shall the manager plan be repealed? And voters may check Yes or No.
Council, with just four members present, met for just 10 minutes on Alaska Day to pass a resolution setting the special election.
Harris had suggested Dec. 14 because it fell between the 45-75 day window required by state law, even though it was before the usual 60 days required for public notice by city code.
Harris noted that the usual 60-day notice for pre-clearance from the Department of Justice, would have placed the earliest date at Dec. 24. In the resolution, Council asked for an exception so the election would not be held on Christmas Eve.
Council believes that setting an election during the Christmas holidays is not appropriate and believes that under the circumstances making an exception to the 60 days requirement is appropriate, the resolution stated.
Council members had questions about the wording and the special elections cost.
Harris said the wording was mandated by state law, and estimated that the election would cost about $1,600. She said she will ask for a budget amendment of $2,000, since a special election was not budgeted.
Council member Mike Korsmo asked when the petitions could have been turned in to make the October ballot at no extra cost to the city. Its too bad it was not included in the last election, Korsmo said.
Harris responded that it was a moot point now.
Member Mike Catsi added that those sponsoring the petition had hoped to get rid of the city manager with their slate of candidates. Now that theyve lost, here we are, he said.
The resolution passed 4-0 on a vote by members Jay Frey, Dave Hunz, Korsmo and Catsi. Mayor Tim Bourcy and members Monica Carlson and Dan Henry were out of town, and the Oct. 21 regular meeting had been rescheduled to Oct. 28.
Other than the media, Bounds was the only citizen present at the meeting. Afterwards, he said he was fine with the Dec. 14 date, adding that Harris did a professional job of setting up the special election.
CITY: Henricksen still contesting election
Ward: Council had all information before them
Unsuccessful City Council candidate Mavis Irene Henricksen is pursuing her contest of the Oct. 5 election, saying City Manager Bob Ward did not totally inform council members of the criteria for contesting an election.
She said in a written statement that Ward left out a key part in his explanation to the Council on Oct. 7.
The second criteria in city code for contesting an election states: Disqualification of the person elected under provisions of state law or city ordinance; or existence of corrupt election practice as defined by the laws of the State of Alaska or in chapter 2.36 of this title (which references AS 15.56 ).
In an interview this week, Henricksen said Ward left out the part about existence of corrupt election practice, which was the real basis of my contest.
Council members rejected the contest unanimously.
Henricksen said she believes there were people in Skagway who voted who should not have been registered voters, which would be classified as voter misconduct in the second degree under AS 15.56.050.
As yet, she said she has no proof of voter misconduct, and is awaiting a list of those who voted in the Oct. 5 election, so she can make that determination, she added.
Reached this week, Ward explained that he paraphrased the requirements and did not read all of criteria two because it was similar to a part of criteria one about misconduct, fraud or corruption by an election official.
He added that the Council had that section of city code in front of them with Henricksens notice of contest when they made their decision.
Whether or not I said it word for word, they had the code there, Ward said.
Henricksens objections about alleged unqualified voters was not an implication of fraud by election officials, Ward noted, adding that the second criteria deals mainly with candidate activities, and the final criteria is miscount of the ballots.
Everybody who voted in this election was on the states voter registration list, Ward said. Anybody who wasnt, was marked as a questioned ballot, and all of those were rejected.
Ward said the city submitted the Oct. 5 voter list to the Division of Elections, but cannot release it to Henricksen until it removes information that cannot be released to the public, such as social security numbers.
We will provide her that list, we have 10 days to do that, he said.
Ward said that if Henricksen wants to question the registration process, Again, thats a state issue, not a city issue....Ultimately it comes down to intent (to stay), as the Lieutenant Governor said, and whos to judge intent?
He referenced City Code 2.08.010 which states: Municipal election officials will rely upon state voter registration records for municipal elections.
In conclusion, Ward said, I stand behind my statement to the Council, which was reviewed by the city attorney, that her contest of election did not meet the requirements of Skagway Municipal Code 2.32.070. JB
AWARD WINNER School Board President Chris Ellis is presented the Association of Alaska School Administrators Don MacKinnon Excellence in Education Award from Skagway Superintendent Michael Dickens at the Oct. 18 board meeting. Dickens nominated Ellis for the award, given annually by the superintendents to a board member in the state who exemplifies a spirit of forging cooperative alliances and professional relationships. Shes done an outstanding job for the students and the community, Dickens said. The award was announced last month at the AASAs annual meeting in Ketchikan. Elliss family was in the audience for the presentation last week, which was repeated before a school assembly, drawing loud applause. JB
SCHOOL: Enrollment averages 108-109
The revised count period for the Skagway City School District ended Oct. 5, with enrollment averaging between 108 and 109 students, Superintendent Michael Dickens reported at the Oct. 18 School Board meeting.
Dickens said the Dept. of Education waiver that allowed the district to begin its count on Sept. 13, rather than in October, and the addition of four foreign exchange students, kept the district from falling under 100 students.
The district sought the waiver to have an earlier count period because of the large number of seasonal students in Skagway at the beginning and end of the school year, which had previously never been figured into the overall enrollment. The district argued it should get some compensation for servicing those students, and the Commissioner of Education agreed last spring to a compromise count period of Sept. 13-Oct. 5.
The district had budgeted for 102 students, and any count lower than that figure would have caused financial problems, Dickens said.
Financially, there are no adverse effects this year, but (enrollment) is an ongoing concern, he said, adding that the district will have to apply for the waiver on an annual basis.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
FIRST FLAKES, FINAL FLOWERS - The flowers in the boxes in front of the Wells Fargo Bank Alaska strain to stay above the snow from Skagways first dumping of the season on Sunday, Oct. 24. Photo by Jeff Brady
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