DADDY'S HOME

Jay Burnham holds his son Benjamin on the porch outside their yellow-ribboned clad home at Seventh and Main. Link to our special interview below with Jay Burnham and Rick Ackerman, two Skagway soldiers who were in Iraq a year ago.

Photo by Jeff Brady

SPECIAL SKAGWAY NEWS INTERVIEW: Home never felt so good; two Skagway soldiers were in Iraq a year ago

Murkowski vows to start ‘pioneer road’ without permits

SMAC, others challenge governor’s final move

JUNEAU – With the delay in the federal permitting process threatening to increase the costs for the first phase of the Lynn Canal Highway project, Gov. Frank Murkowski has ordered the state to proceed with plans to build a pioneer road north of Juneau to Slate Cove at the earliest opportunity, according to a press release issued last week.
However, several environmental and marine transportation advocates, including the Skagway Marine Access Commission, are challenging the move in the waning days of the Murkowski administration.
The Juneau Access road to a ferry terminal at Katzehin, with shuttle ferries to Haines and Skagway, has been one of the governor’s major priorities.
“Lynn Canal Highway is important to Juneau as well as the state of Alaska in providing a critical link to the state’s capital, alleviating the growing subsidy to the Alaska Marine Highway System and satisfying an unmet demand for travel access in Upper Lynn Canal in a more economically responsible way,” said Gov. Murkowski in a statement. “In an effort to meet these important public needs, we are making this modification to the contract while we wait for the Corps (of Engineers) to do its work.”
The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities issued an addendum to the Lynn Canal Highway bid documents on Nov. 15, asking contractors to submit a bid on building the 18-foot wide pioneer road and temporary bridges. The state plans to open those bids today, Nov. 22.
“The opening date for this project has slipped five months and looks to be delayed another four months while we wait for the Army Corps of Engineers permits for this important statewide project,” said Murkowski. “This has the potential to increase the costs of this project and make it more difficult to attract competitive bids when we are in a position to build the road.”
“It is vital that we not lose another construction season, so this pioneer road project will allow us be ready to move forward on construction of the highway when the permit is eventually issued,” Murkowski said.
Restrictions on the project require that construction on the major bridges through Berner’s Bay take place between June 15 and March 15. A pioneer road would allow the state access to the bridge construction sites to work within that window of time, according to the state’s press release. The pioneer road work is expected to cost about $30 million and construction is expected to begin in early April.
State officials have already stated that the estimated $204 million price tag in the Environmental Impact Statement for the road project is low. The entire project is already being challenged in court by several groups, citing problems with the EIS.
According to the Juneau Empire, many of those same organizations fired off a letter last Friday to the Federal Highway Administration asking for intervention in the pioneer road push, contending that U.S. law requires the DOT to have necessary permits in hand before a contract is awarded.
The federal permits include one to assure compliance with the Clean Water Act, and two from the Tongass National Forest for right-of-way access.
Earthjustice attorney Michael LeVine told the Empire that awarding a contract “is unwise fiscally and illegal.”
The groups include Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Public Interest Research Group, Skagway Marine Access Commission, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
LeVine said if the project is not stopped until the required permits are obtained, the groups will continue “evaluating all possible options” including legal action.
In response, DOT&PF special assistant Mary Siroky said that since the pioneer road would be built with $30 million in state dollars, federal rules don’t apply.
“The federal laws require the state to have the permits in hand before a contract is awarded. We re-did the contract for a smaller scope that can be accomplished with only state dollars,” she told the Empire. “And what we gained by doing that (is that) we can get a contractor in place, and equipment supplies and materials. When we get the permits, the contractor will be able to hit the ground running.”
She added that DOT&PF is confident that the permits will be granted.

UPDATE: The first round of bids came in $20 million over the state's $30 million estimate, so DOT staff scaled back the project significantly, and, using base bids of $18.6 million from Southeast Road Builders of Haines, and $23.9 million from Kiewit Pacific Corp., then filed a notice of intent to award to Southeast Road Builders. Kiewit filed suit to stop the awarding of the contract, but lost a bid in court for a restraining order, which is being appealed. The state announced it had awarded the contract on Dec. 1 over objections from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, which also questioned the legality of the state's application for an emergency waiver to proceed with the project. The state said it would not allow Southeast Roadbuilders to proceed until the appeal by Jiewit is resolved. Details in the Dec. 8 issue.

LBC hearing starts Monday

The Alaska Local Boundary Commission will begin its public hearing on the Skagway Borough proposal at 3 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27 at City Hall.
The LBC is revisiting a proposal that it originally rejected, based in part on size requirements. Skagway was successful a year ago in court at getting the ruling thrown out based on the LBC’s administering of those requirements without due process.
Since then, the city and LBC have lined up constitutional experts for their arguments, and many are expected to be called to testify next week. The public can also weigh in with comments up to three minutes in length.
The hearing will run until 10 p.m. on Monday and is expected to reconvene at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. It also could go into Wednesday.
The LBC then has the option of going into a decisional meeting, based on what it has heard.

UPDATE: After three days of hearings in Skagway, the LBC adjourned and will reconvene for its decisional meeting on Dec. 12 in Anchorage. The meeting will be teleconferenced to Skagway City Hall. The hearing will have extensive coverage in the Dec. 8 issue, and the decisional meeting will be covered in the Dec. 20 issue.

Manager finalist selection tonight

The three finalists for the city manager position will not be known until after a meeting later today.
The City Manager Selection Committee conducted phone interviews with six semi-finalists Nov. 8-10, but are not meeting again until 6 p.m. tonight to compare notes and make the cut down to three finalists.

UPDATE: The committee narrowed the selection down to these three finalists: John W. Alder, Esker W. Coffey, and Amy W. Guerra. For a review of their backgrounds, see the Nov. 10 issue. The committee was meeting again on Dec. 4 to draw up questions for interviews with the three finalists in Skagway, which could take place the weekend of Dec. 8-10. Watch for details in the Dec. 8 issue regarding when the public will be able to meet the candidates.

Skagway Police Department dispatcher Sheryl Gladden processes a call at the new communications station at SPD. AC

New police radio equipment means better communications
By ANDREW CREMATA
The Skagway Police Department held an open house recently to unveil its new communications and dispatch console, the purchase of which was made possible by a Homeland Security grant. The state-of-the-art system makes it possible for more streamlined communications between various Skagway emergency response entities and replaces a hodgepodge of antiquated and unreliable equipment.
The new system is so sophisticated, Skagway residents who enjoy listening to their police scanners may find themselves listening to static instead. When Police Chief Ray Leggett first started his job two years ago, he recognized the need to upgrade the existing communications system. He said that the radio shack, located behind the police department, was more of a junk closet where much of the equipment was not even hooked up and the little that was connected was in working condition. The department itself had one working radio on the desk, and the cable for the radio that ran to the antennae was haphazardly “thrown over the building,” said Leggett at the open house on Nov. 9. The new $522,000 system, funded entirely through a Homeland Security grant, not only replaces the one-radio system previously utilized by police, but also covered the gutting and modernization of repeaters located on AB Mountain and Goat Lake. Even the new workstation boasts movable platforms, offering ergonomic benefits for persons handling communications, and is now compliant with American with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.
“We went from having a radio on a desk to having a dispatch system,” said Leggett. The dispatch system is called the Motorola Centracom Elite, and is a hub of communications between the police department, the fire department, and the National Park Service. In an emergency situation, everyone connected to the system is able to hear the same information in real-time. For example, an emergency call from Park Service personnel can be instantaneously linked to both the fire and police departments, reducing response time significantly. Information about emergency callers is immediately displayed on monitors, meaning the dispatcher can direct responders to needed locations with accuracy and speed.
Leggett also described a built-in instant retrieval system as something like TiVo, where a message can be played back immediately if parts of the necessary information were missed by first responders. Police dispatch is already connected to marine frequencies, and Leggett hopes that expansion to the system in the near future will also tie in airline frequencies.
The system is also linked to the Silent Knight Security systems in town, and when an alarm is received, information about the nature of the alert is highlighted immediately on the dispatcher’s monitor. When asked if the system was tied into federal agencies like Homeland Security or the FBI, Leggett said, “There is no Big Brother here.”

TOWER OF POWER - The brains of the new digital emergency communications system at the Skagway Police Department. AC

While the government will not be able to monitor communications via the new Centracom Elite system, Skagway residents will also not be able to listen in via their police scanners. The 64-bit AES digital encryption ensures that no scanner, not even digital ones, can monitor communications between linked parties.
Some may wonder what would happen if the computer-driven system were to entirely shut down. While Leggett said that the chances of that happening would be “slim to none” based on built-in redundancy within the system, there is still a “Doomsday” system in place. This device is completely separate from the new workstation and would allow for communication even if the whole thing ceased to function.
Obtaining the money from Homeland Security was not an easy task. Leggett described the grant process as a long one that had to be broken down into phases. Because portions of the grant would be for the fire department and portions for the police department it was necessary for the two entities to work together. “Everyone had input,” he said. “We had to pick everyone’s brain, but we had very good relations between the two departments. It was a team effort.”
He added that it was refreshing to see everyone “come together and put all of this together.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

PANTHERS STRETCH

The Skagway Panther mascot urges on the junior high girls team as they stretch before their opening game at the recent Boyd Worley Tournament. The Skagway School Board may soon be needing to stretch dollars to make up for a shortfall caused by declining enrollment. See stories in features below. Jeff Brady

• SKAGWAY SCHOOL FORUM: Concerns over pupil count

• SHS & SKAGWAY ACTIVITIES: Boyd Worley J-High Tourney; Regionals next for wrestling and volleyball teams; YRQ registration opens, filling fast

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