HITTING THE FLOOR

Skagway High girl’s volleyball coach (right) Becky Jensen and team pound the floor to get ready for a match in the Region V 2A tourney held in Skagway Nov. 17-18. See tourney coverage on this issue's sports page. Jeff Brady

City moratorium pushes Segway tours out of main Skagway business district

By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway City Council, citing an already-congested Historic District, passed a resolution Nov. 20 calling for a two-year moratorium on Segway tours in the downtown business area.
According to an industry representative, it is only the third such moratorium in the United States.
Specifically, Segway tours will not be allowed south of 10th Ave. between Spring and Alaska streets, or on Congress Way or Terminal Way, for the summer seasons of 2004 and 2005. The resolution passed on a 4-0 vote by council members J.M. Frey, Mike Catsi, Mike Korsmo, and Monica Carlson.
The tours have been proposed by Alaska Travel Adventures, which brought a Segway Human Transporter model to Skagway last month for a trial run. Several residents complained about the devices at successive council meetings.
“I’m in favor of this moratorium,” said Stuart Brown. “It keeps them out of the Historic District. This would add to the congestion.”
Janilyn Heger said she would prefer not to have them anywhere and worried about the city’s liability. “They are not appropriate for an historic town site,” she said.
The resolution cited previous restrictions on animal-drawn and walking tours in justifying the moratorium.
Carlson, attending her first meeting since being appointed earlier this month, questioned if the resolution was specific enough or needed definitions about the self-propelled devices.
Mayor Tim Bourcy said the moratorium applies only to Segway tours. If an individual were to buy one of the $5,000 models and use it downtown, its use could not be restricted. In state code, the devices are treated like bicycles.
ATA had planned to start their tours from their RV Park at 12th and Broadway. Other than going up and down Alaska and Spring streets, they would only be allowed to criss-cross the town from 10th Ave. north.
Calls to ATA for a response to the moratorium were not returned in time for this edition, however Segway Alaska dealer-operator Andy Hilowitz of Anchorage said he was surprised by the city’s decision.
If he had been aware of the resolution in time, he would have come down to speak to it, he said in a call Monday to find out what happened at last week’s meeting. He said the Skagway decision is the third such in the U.S., but the other two cities banned the vehicles outright.
Hilowitz operated some Segway tours in Anchorage this summer and said they were a “non-event, trouble-free.”
He takes no more than five Segways on a tour with a guide who is in charge of their movements, he said. The 12 proposed by ATA may be too many, he added.

New group organizes for better ferries
Pushes for fast ferry stops in Haines, Skagway

By JEFF BRADY
A new lobbying group, Better Ferries for Alaska, has organized in Juneau and hired Capt. Bob Doll, former regional director of DOT&PF, as its executive director.
The group is being funded with a $7,000 grant from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council through the Alaska Conservation Foundation.
Skagway resident Jan Wrentmore and Mayor Tim Bourcy have been involved in the first teleconference meetings of the group, Doll said.
In a press release congratulating the state on the christening of the new fast ferry, Mayor Bourcy said, “Lynn Canal has always been among the Marine Highway’s most heavily used routes and we are happy to see a high speed vessel assigned where it can best serve the public.”
According to the release: “Better Ferries for Alaska unites citizens, local governments, labor organizations, businesses, and conservation advocates in supporting ferry system extension and improvement. The group seeks to convey to the legislature, the administration, and to the public the strong constituency that exists for ferries as a mode of public transportation. Better Ferries also emphasizes the advantages that ferries enjoy in terms of capital and operating costs, ease of regulatory approval, the speed with which they can be constructed and placed in service, and their safety and reliability.”
Wrentmore said the new Juneau-based committee complements other pro-active groups like the publicly funded Lynn Canal Transportation Committee and the private Skagway Marine Access Committee.
She said Better Ferries for Alaska will take no position on any road projects, but will serve to “counter the road-building agenda” of the Murkowski Administration, where ferries have taken a second seat in funding.
One position that Wrentmore and other members of the Lynn Canal committee are pushing is that the new fast ferry stop in Haines and Skagway on each trip from Juneau next summer. As proposed, the Fairweather would make separate point-to-point runs between Juneau and each northern Lynn Canal community five days a week.
“I feel strongly that by excluding the Haines-Skagway run, three different entities are losing out,” Wrentmore said, “1) the traveling public on the popular Golden Circle Tour, 2) all three communities, Haines, Skagway and Whitehorse, and 3) the Alaska Marine Highway by losing a lucrative run. It’s a lose, lose, lose scenario.”
Haines Mayor Mike Case also welcomed the new ferry and urged the system to employ it between Haines and Skagway.
“The Haines community needs this new ferry to travel to and from Juneau, but we have no less need to get to our sister cities of Skagway and Whitehorse,” he said in the Better Ferries release. “We hope the Department of Transportation will recognize that for us, travel between Haines and Skagway is every bit as important as getting to Juneau and beyond.”
The state is looking into contracting a private ferry for the Haines-Skagway run. Haines businessman Bruce Gilbert has put in a bid to use his 65-foot “Silver Eagle”, according to the Chilkat Valley News.
But after a meeting with the ferry system’s director, Capt. George Capacci, Gilbert said his vessel, which can carry six to eight cars, might not fit the criteria the state needs.
“They think I’m a little bit small,” Gilbert told the CVN. “It really wasn’t too encouraging. I suppose they’ll end up putting it out to a request for proposals and see who responds.”

Kathy Hosford (standing in crowd) addresses DOT represenatives Pat Carroll and Theresa Svancara. JB

Dyea Road spot fixes win support

Meeting participants prefer work on ‘Hackett Hill’

By JEFF BRADY
The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is poised to begin work on a $2 million Dyea Road safety improvements project next fall.
Spot widening of seven stretches of roadway from Mile 4.2 to 8.1 (see graphic) were laid out before the public at a Nov. 18 meeting in Skagway. About 50 residents were in attendance, and while none voiced objections to the project, many questioned why the most dangerous section of roadway was left out.
Dyea resident Kathy Hosford put up a poster with photos of accidents and road shoulder failure in the “Hackett Hill” area at about 8.5 mile. It’s a miracle no one has died in those accidents, she said.
In addition, many Dyea residents have experienced their own “little heart attacks” when meeting tour vans and construction vehicles on that hill, she said, forcing one vehicle to back down the hill to let the other pass. The situation will get worse as more visitors descend on Dyea – she estimates about 50,000 traveled the road this past summer.
Pat Carroll, designer and project manager for DOT&PF, said the department was presented with the spot improvements list by staff engineer and Skagway resident Paul Taylor, who proposed the seven areas as a first phase, and Hackett Hill as the second phase.
The reasoning for this, Carroll said, was that the $2 million allocated for the project would go further with the proposed work on the seven areas – fixing four miles versus a half mile.
“It’s not that we’ve ignored it (Hackett Hill), it’s a harder problem to solve,” Carroll said.
The Hackett Hill problem might best be solved by moving the entire roadway down by the Taiya River, which would require a significant amount of blasting and the possible need for an environmental assessment or impact statement, he noted, and would eat up all of the money and possibly more.
The $2 million in federal funds for construction will come from a pot of money for safety improvements in the state’s 2004-05 budget. Beyond that, though, no money is allocated for Dyea Road in the State Transportation Improvement Plan.
Hosford said it may be too late for this project, but urged residents to lobby the state to get the second phase on the STIP list. The state currently is in the process of revising the plan to reflect priorities of the Murkowski Administration (see sidebar).
A suggestion was made to take some of the money from one or more of the seven areas of phase one and put it into improvements on Hackett Hill.
“It scares the heck out of me,” said Ed Ibbotson, adding that most visitors don’t know how to drive on mountain roads. “Another four-to-five feet to let people go by would help.”

Alaska DOT&PF

While some in the audience like former state road foreman Jan Nelson suggested a comprehensive road widening project, others like Dyea resident Dennis Bousson said the proposed spot improvements are a good compromise for those concerned about visual impacts.
Safety was the primary emphasis of those who spoke. Current DOT&PF foreman Keith Knorr said pieces of “Hazard Rock” at mile 8.1 are breaking off and falling on the road. He said it needs to be removed.
Blasting that rock, and in sections along mile 7.3 to 7.7, and at mile 5.8 will throw some debris into the salt water and tidal zones, said DOT&PF environmental section analyst Theresa Svancara.
She is gathering data to determine if the project will fall under a “categorical exclusion” status with minimal impacts, or need an environmental assessment and possible EIS. To date, she said, no eagle nests have been identified and fisheries issues are being addressed. The project will require an Army Corps of Engineers permit.
One concern brought up was that the blasting not leave a huge scar like the 1987 project which widened the road at about mile 5.5. Billy Strasser, who lives across Long Bay from the scar, asked if the state had a plan for rehabilitating scars caused by the new project.
Carroll said the 1987 cut was about 180 feet, and that most of the ones in the proposed seven areas are in the 30 to 40-foot range, the largest being 75 feet in the Dyea Point section. He said the state will work with the National Park Service on ways to mitigate the visual impacts, but cautioned, “It’s rock, it will take time.”
Overall, the project will improve sight lines for drivers, and widen the road to two 10-foot lanes, leaving an extra four feet for guard rails. Some residents asked that safety lanes be incorporated for walkers and bikers.
Dave Vogel, local manager of Alaska Power and Telephone, welcomed the project and said he hopes the state can firm up its schedule soon. AP&T has delayed completion of its power line extension to Dyea until the state moves forward with the project. The power project stalled at Dyea Point last year, but Dyea residents have been getting power in the meantime from a company generator.
If the road improvements project proceeds as scheduled, bids would go out in the late summer, and work would commence at the end of the 2004 tourist season and continue through the winter with a target completion date in spring 2005.
Karen Gee, who works for Chilkoot Horseback Adventures, said it is critical for Dyea tour operators that the state keep to that schedule.
She also had another suggestion that can be done before next summer: Move the warning sign about the road’s narrow and blind curves at a spot where the RVs have a chance to turn around, not at mile 4 where it is too late.
Others suggested additional signs before hazardous sections like Hackett Hill to slow people down.
Carroll was impressed by the turnout in Skagway, which was larger than he gets for many Juneau projects, he said. Svancara and Carroll asked for written comments on the project. Deadline is Dec. 18, and comments can be mailed to DOT&PF, Attn. Pat Carroll, 6860 Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK 99801; faxed to 907-465-4415; or emailed to: pat_carroll@dot.state.ak.us.
The Skagway City Council endorsed the project at its Nov. 20 meeting.

OTHER STORIES:

• SPORTS - Regional volleyball tourney, Boyd Worley junior high hoops

• OBITUARIES - Charles Hermens, Sally Polley

• YULETIDE - Invitation

• ARTS - Fiddler performs, Dorothy Brady art show

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