The fast ferry Fairweather passes the snow-covered Eldred Rock lighthouse on Nov. 7 during a return trip from Haines. This photo was shot from the Columbia which was en route to Skagway. The Fairweather is in the northern Lynn Canal just two day a week this winter. See stories on the DOT ferry and money shuffle below. Photo by Jeff Brady

LBC gives city until end of year

Hargraves: Commission 'harbors no hostility'

The Local Boundary Commission has given the City of Skagway an additional month to submit an updated supplemental brief in response to an order last month to reopen Skagway’s petition for borough formation.
An Oct. 24 letter from the Commission ordered the city to have its brief submitted by Nov. 20, but the city countered with a letter Nov. 4 that said the request was unrealistic and accused the Commission of being hostile toward Skagway following a Superior Court judgment earlier this fall. That Sept. 20 ruling by Judge Patricia Collins said LBC wrongly imposed its own fundamental principles without due process – including a size restriction – in its 2002 rejection of Skagway’s petition.
LBC unsuccessfully tried to have the judge reconsider her decision, and has since put the Skagway matter back on the fast track. But it caught city officials off guard and City Manager Bob Ward said there was no time to coordinate meetings with city officials who were away early this month at Alaska Municipal League and City Attorney Bob Blasco who is getting married outside of the state.
In his response to the city on Nov. 17, LBC Chair Darroll Hargraves granted an extension to the end of the year and further explained the parameters for the upcoming debate. The LBC will set aside much of the material that was covered in the court case – the so-called fundamental principles and size regulation – and will not draft new regulations that will be applicable to the petition, he wrote.
The new hearing will concentrate on a June 2002 Preliminary Report. Ward said Blasco had reviewed the Hargraves letter and was “optimistic it is better than it looks.
The 2002 Preliminary Report focused on whether Skagway’s application was beneficial to the state, Ward said. “I think we can put together a defense for that and a strong group of witnesses.”
Ward said the latest letter, written by the chair of the commission, appeared thoughtful.
In the letter, Hargraves addressed Skagway’s assertions of prejudice:
“With regard to tenor and assertions in the rest of your letter, be assured that the Commission harbors no ‘hostility toward Skagway.’ The LBC’s Oct. 9 motion and my Oct. 24 order reflect the LBC’s view that the Skagway matter warrants timely attention leading to a fully informed decision by the LBC. The order was intended to provide a process that allows the Petitioner and others a fair opportunity to be heard. Nothing in the proceedings to date can reasonably be interpreted to suggest that the LBC harbors no hostility toward Skagway or has acted in bad faith.”
Hargraves added that all but one commissioner (himself) was appointed after the first Skagway decision, and that the order to allow a supplemental briefing, inspect the territory and hold a new hearing “is motivated only by a desire to ensure that the record before us is current and complete and this new LBC is fully and accurately informed, before we make our final decision.”
With the revised timeline, Skagway now has until Dec. 30 to prepare its brief.
“This allows us to have our Thanksgiving in peace but not our Christmas in peace,” Ward said, adding that he will start work on the city’s game plan when Mayor Tim Bourcy returns.
Responsive briefs, if any, shall be due Jan. 31, and any supplemental report from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development would be due Feb. 28. The tour of the territory proposed for borough formation would occur at least three weeks after that DCCED response, on or after March 21, 2006.

Hatchery proposal spawned

NSRAA offers $1.5 million for operation

Funding the operation of a Skagway hatchery may be easier than at first glance, but the city wants hard numbers to go with a design before it moves forward with a project.
A conceptual operating budget for a local hatchery was presented to City Council by seasonal Fish & Game employee Meredith Marchioni at a work session on Nov. 15. The plan details a hypothetical annual financial plan for a hatchery suited to Skagway’s unique needs.
State Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Haines) has already offered the city $1.5 million dollars to build the hatchery. Another $1.5 million might now be on the table for operating expenses from the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA). While the financial obstacles to a hatchery appear to be falling away, some on the council are concerned about the environmental impacts and are worried that when the state money runs out, Skagway will be left up the creek.
Marchioni spent her summer caring for the king salmon fry in Pullen Pond, weighing and measuring salmon that were caught by local and visiting fishermen, and collecting the spawning salmon that returned to the creek. It is ultimately the eggs she was after. Those eggs are transferred to Douglas Island Pink and Chum in Juneau where the city pays for them to be raised and ultimately released back here in Skagway. The DIPAC agreement costs the city $160,000 annually.
From the data Marchioni collected, it was ascertained that 80-90 percent of all king salmon caught in the Skagway area are a direct result of local efforts to enhance stocks through DIPAC and the school hatchery. This means that without these efforts Skagway would have no king salmon to speak of, as the other 10-20 percent are fish meant for other streams that happen to wander into the Pullen system. According to Fish and Game, Pullen can never support a natural king salmon run.
With the state eager to provide funding for both the construction and operation of a hatchery, Marchioni prepared her conceptual budget hopeful that the city would take advantage of the financial opportunity.
While some in the city previously speculated that annual operating expenses for the hatchery would exceed $300,000, Marchioni’s budget shows $203,480 for those costs on the bottom line. Operating costs would be offset not only by potential state money but also by charging visitors to tour the facility.
Councilman Mike Catsi expressed some concern about the budget numbers, specifically the proposal’s speculation that volunteers would be available during the busy summer months to act as interpreters for tourists.
“I don’t think we can count on volunteers,” he said, adding that many volunteers already devote much of their time to other community activities in the summer.
Catsi asked that the budget proposal be amended to reflect the change. Marchioni said it would not be a problem and that in her considerations for the budget she thought that Skagway school students involved in the hatchery program would be a source of volunteers, and that they would be well-suited to the job as they would be familiar with the work being done and in a position to explain it.
Catsi also wanted to see changes reflected in the budget concerning potential summer employee housing and costs pertaining to the hatchery’s need for a boat and a truck.
“I’m not so sure in the long term that we won’t have other issues to deal with,” said Councilman Mike Korsmo.
Some of the potential issues Korsmo cited were the environmental impacts of a hatchery including the effect on Pullen Pond and the impact on the salmon’s natural food source.

MONING SWIM – A harbor seal swims in the crystal clear winter waters under the Ore Dock on a crisp November morning. Andrew Cremata

Marchioni said the fact Skagway has been releasing salmon fry in one form or another over the last decade makes it doubtful that a hatchery would create a food shortage problem.
“If there wasn’t food out there for the salmon, we would have seen problems by now,” she said.
Marchioni also feels the potential benefits to Skagway far outweigh the drawbacks when it comes to owning and operating a hatchery.
Marchioni’s workload during the summer months is arduous. Salmon returning to the Pullen system are collected in the weir, where she must move the often heavy fish into separate holding pens where they wait for the day that their eggs will be processed. “I spend the majority of my summer in the creek,” she said.
While the city continues to rely on DIPAC for its salmon needs, Marchioni sees problems with that arrangement.
“DIPAC doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s the person here (in Skagway) that has the biggest effect.”
Marchioni uses as an example the problem that occurred in 2004, when a miscommunication between Skagway and DIPAC caused most of the collected salmon and their eggs to be lost. Even DIPAC has repeatedly urged the city to build its own hatchery, and it was a part of their initial agreement.
There are also problems with the aging equipment that is used in Pullen Pond to house the salmon and their fry, as well as an ongoing problem with vandalism to the weir and holding pens.
This year a potential disaster was averted when one of the pens came loose and the salmon charged up Pullen on the same day that DIPAC arrived in Skagway to secure the salmon. This left Marchioni desperately chasing the salmon upstream, net in hand, or risk watching all of the work she accomplished over the summer disappear upstream.
“I chased one fish into the pipe,” she said, referring to the large pipe that allows fish passage under Congress Way. When she emerged from the pipe with the fish, gathered tourists were impressed, but for Marchioni, who needed the female fish that had escaped for eggs, the capture was a bit disappointing.
“It was a male,” she said laughing.
Marchioni will be in Skagway next summer, and then will leave to graduate from school in Miami. She sees Skagway as a town where fishing ranks high among its citizens’ interests.
“People really enjoy having the kings come up here,” she said, adding that a project like the hatchery is one that enriches the community by providing something that locals as well as tourists can enjoy.
Other benefits included in her statement applied to the school in regards to educational opportunities for its students, and a tourism draw for a public that daily asks Marchioni why the salmon do what they do.
For Marchioni, one thing remains certain. Without a hatchery, if the arrangement between the city and DIPAC comes to an end, “after two years there will be no salmon.”
At the Nov. 17 City Council meeting, Catsi said he wanted DIPAC and NSRAA to look at the budget and wanted to see NSRAA’s $1.5 million offer in writing.
Korsmo said that he was no fan of the hatchery and that deceased Councilman Jay Frey would not be either. He said he would like to see the true cost of a facility and a stipulation against a cost recovery plan that could lead to a commercial fishery in Taiya Inlet.
Councilman Craig Jennison said that he was excited to see the proposal and was looking forward to getting into it and seeing the actual numbers. He added that it had the potential to become a great education facility in Skagway and tie into natural stream improvements.
The city plans to investigate further by proceeding with a design concept, further reviewing the budget, and getting a proposal from NSRAA in writing.

DOT dance card shuffles ferries, money


Governor calls fast ferries a ‘bad deal’
‘Southeast Express’ numbers low at start
Gov. Frank Murkowski says Alaska’s two fast ferries, which cost the state $38 million apiece, are starting to look like a “failed experiment.”
“They’re sure drifting that way,” Murkowski said during a recent press briefing. “You’ve got to face facts when you inherit a bad deal. You’ve got to figure out what you can possibly do with it.”
Murkowski said former Gov. Tony Knowles’ administration did not adequately study the feasibility of the fast ferries before approving the purchase of the Fairweather and the Chenega. The ferries, which can hold 250 passengers, make sense only if they are carrying enough passengers, Murkowski said.
During its inaugural “Southeast Express” experiment earlier this month, there were 28 or fewer passengers on the fast ferries’ relay run from Juneau to Ketchikan, said Department of Transportation spokesman John Manly.
“Those ships are designed for high-density runs, and we don’t have high-density runs for nine months of the year,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski spoke about the ferries Nov. 9 during a rare, wide-ranging question-and-answer session with members of the capital press corps. He said it was doubtful the state would order more fast ferries, according to Associated Press reports.
The state hailed the experimental runs earlier this fall, and the governor’s remarks came less than a week after the experiment began.
Three days a week, all winter long, the Fairweather will depart Juneau and the Chenega will depart Ketchikan, with the ships meeting in Petersburg to exchange passengers.
“The basic idea of arranging our fast ferry routes to form a ‘couplet’ that connects at Petersburg is to provide a one-day, express ferry ride between Ketchikan and Juneau,” said Robin Taylor, the state’s director of marine transportation, in a press release. “We believe this will give much-needed scheduling options to a number of organizations, businesses, schools, and Southeast residents.”
The Chenega will stop at Wrangell northbound on its first and third voyages each week and southbound on its second voyage. The Fairweather, in addition to the Juneau-Petersburg schedule, will continue to serve Lynn Canal on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Sitka on Wednesdays.
Taylor said that in addition to trying a new way of deploying the fast vehicle ferries in a more convenient schedule, the ferry system also wants to know exactly how the ferries will handle the notoriously rough wintertime seas of Clarence Strait and Stephens Passage. “The Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan calls for the use of a total of three fast vehicle ferries, and we need to know if they will work as planned before we buy anymore of them,” Taylor said. – Associated Press

Budget submitted for Juneau Access
Proposed STIP would fund ferry float projects
Keeping up with funding for state transportation projects has been like watching a volleyball match of late, and the serves are getting stronger.
The passage of the massive federal transportation bill last summer gave the state some big ticket items, but national media attention and criticism leveled at the Gravina Island and Knik Arm “bridges to nowhere” caused the $454 million earmarks for those projects to be pulled last week before Congress.
The state will still get the millions in the federal bill, but it will be left up to the Alaska Legislature to designate the funds.
Not lost in all this is the Juneau Access project, which the state plans to fund pending completion of the final EIS early next year, and a reduced list of local projects in its draft State Transportation Improvements Project (STIP) list for 2006-08.
The Juneau Access preferred alternative switched last summer to a road up the east side of Lynn Canal to Katzehin with a shuttle ferry to Haines and Skagway. This decision was made after the state backed off an earlier design that would have taken the road all the way to Skagway, where it would have crossed 4(f) park lands in the Skagway National Historic Landmark.
The state has now proposed $75 million next year (an increase of $35 million,) and then another $102.5 million in 2007.
In a recent interview with the Juneau Empire, DOT engineer Pat Kemp said this funding could take the road around Berners Bay and as far as Comet beach on Lynn Canal near the Kensington Mine by late 2007 or early 2008, and with more money the project could be completed by 2009. The state estimates the total project cost at $285 million.
But some are criticizing the state for budgeting money for a project that has not been approved, in light of proposed cuts to other core projects and those on its STIP list.
“DOT warned that we’ll see about $50 million in cuts for long planned projects as a result of the federally-mandated earmarks,” said Emily Ferry of the watchdog group, Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, in a press release. “What’s shocking is that DOT exacerbated the problem by choosing to put $175 million into the ‘dead end extension,’” referring to the state’s revised plans for the 50-mile road north of Juneau to Katzehin..
The state recently released its draft STIP list on the DOT Website, and Skagway has two projects listed for 2006 at the ferry terminal: $3.1 million to modify the floating dock and $1 million to add a sewage utility at the float. Both would be funded with federal Shakwak money.
Skagway City Councilmember Mike Korsmo said the city needs to be proactive in getting additional money for Dyea Road improvements and other projects back on the STIP list.
Deadline for comments on the draft 2006-08 STIP is Dec. 31.

Fulda to stay in the Yukon for 2006 event

The Fulda Challenge will not cross the border into Alaska as organizers have decided to keep all events in the Yukon early next year.
This means Skagway will not host the athletes as in 2004 and 2005, when coed pairs competed in a grueling 20-mile mountain bike climb up the Klondike Highway to Fraser.
Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau board member Susan Jabal received confirmation from the event’s Yukon coordinator recently that Fulda would stay in the Yukon. Jabal’s Haven Cafe had catered breakfast for the athletes at the railroad depot before the hill climb.
Interim Tourism Director Kristin Wilkinson has been trying to follow-up with coordinator Susan Huff of Whitehorse to see if Skagway can be in the running for future events.
“It’s disappointing news but hopefully we can get them back for 2007,” Wilkinson said in her report to the CVB on Nov. 16.
The Fulda website has not announced its schedule for the 2006 event, but it will be held Jan. 26 through Feb. 5. Nor was a list of athletes on the site.
In the 2005 event, the Skagway-based team of Eric Coufal and Jessie Rapin qualified for the event for the USA, but withdrew after the second day, citing safety concerns following a traffic accident that injured members of the British team.
Wilkinson will be meeting with various Yukon tourism officials next week to let them know that Skagway is open to visits by athletes during the 2007 Canada Winter Games. – JB


GOVERNOR'S EMS AWARD – Skagway’s Nancy Schave, left, and Frank Wasmer, right, pose with Lt. Gov. Loren Leman after Wasmer was presented the Citizen/Consumer Award by the Governor’s Council on Emergency Medical Services in Anchorage this month. Wasmer was recognized for his “quick action and application of CPR, which saved a woman’s life and resulted in her total recovery.” The woman was his wife, Nancy, who suffered a heart attack during the showing of the Yuletide movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” last December. The alertness of Wasmer and student EMTs Seth Plunkett and Dimitra Lavrakas, who were trained by Schave, gave Skagway a miracle for the season.

• BIRDING: Rare beach bird spotted as annual Christmas Bird Count approaches

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP: Volleyball team aims for first place; Boyd Worley Jr. High Tourney photos and stats


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