BIG STOCKING TO FILL

Former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill holds up a copy of the Alaska Constitution, which he helped draft 50 years ago, at a meeting of the Local Boundary Commission in Skagway Nov. 27-29. He supported Skagway’s borough petition, but fellow delegate Vic Fischer used the same document to say Skagway should not be a borough. The LBC will rule on what goes in Skagway’s stocking on Dec. 12. See our special report of these historic proceedings in top stories below.

Photo by Jeff Brady

SPECIAL REPORT: Skagway borough petition public hearing before Local Boundary Commission

Related Editorial: Convincing argument for borough status

Pioneer road bids high

Contract to SE Roadbuilders challenged, on hold

Barely an hour after issuing a press release on Dec. 1 saying that Southeast Road Builders of Haines had been awarded an $18.6 million contract to build a twice-revised pioneer road project north of Juneau, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities reversed itself and announced it had informed the company that the contract will not be implemented until a legal appeal is concluded with the unsuccessful bidder.
The decision was made in consultation with the Alaska Department of Law after the unsuccessful bidder, Kiewit Pacific Corp., appealed its preliminary injunction request to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Southeast Road Builders was the low bidder in the process and has been awarded the contract. It has proposed building a 18-foot wide Pioneer Road from Cascade Point to the Antler River and from the Lace River to the existing Jualin Mine road. The state DOT&PF has directed Southeast Road Builders to take no action while the appeal is pending.
Kiewit filed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in Superior Court asking that the contract award be delayed while it protests the award. Superior Court Judge Patrick J. McKay had dismissed the request on Nov. 30. The next day it was appealed.
The state took revised bids after the first wave of bids on Nov. 22 showed that Kiewit and Southeast were nearly double the $30 million allocated for the project. Kiewit was the lower bidder at the time.
The state then scaled back the project and called for rebids, which were opened two days later. The second time around, Southeast’s bid was lower, although both companies were still $2 million over the $30 million.
An intent to award a contract was issued to Southeast Road Builders because its revised base estimate was $18.6 million. Kiewit’s revised base bid was $23.9 million. Neither revised bid included bridges of the two rivers entering Berner’s Bay.
Former Gov. Frank Murkowski rushed to move forward with the pioneer road in the waning days of his administration, after it was clear federal permits for the entire Juneau Access project from Berner’s Bay to Katzehin could be delayed another four months.
“That the bids came in high should send a strong signal to the Palin Administration. DOT was way off the mark on their project estimates,” said Tim Bourcy, mayor of Skagway, in a statement distributed by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “It’s time to put the brakes on this project before any more public money gets wasted.”

UPDATE: The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal and kicked it back to the state procurement officer. Details in Dec. 20 issue.

Manager finalists interview today

The public will have an opportunity to meet the two remaining city manager finalists, Esker Coffey of Anchorage and Amy Guerra of Portland, Friday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. at City Hall.
After the “Meet and Greet,” Coffey will be interviewed at 2 p.m., followed by Guerra at 4 p.m., with the City Manager Search Committee meeting after the final interview.
A third finalist, John Alder, withdrew from consideration this week.

UPDATE: Skagway City Council will meet in special session at 5 p.m. on Dec. 15 to hear the recommendation of the hiring committee.

SCHOOL: Academics vs. sports: The conflict leads to debate

By ANDREW CREMATA
Students involved in the Skagway City School’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team performed in front of the School Board last week and asked that the board not restrict students to one extracurricular activity.
Recent conflicts have developed with students participating in both DDF and sports-related activities at the school, which threaten the survival of the DDF team. The students hope that a compromise can be obtained that will allow them to continue participating in multiple extracurricular activities. However, the limited number of students at the school, combined with potential traveling conflicts, makes the issue a difficult one for students and coaches alike.
At the Nov. 26, board meeting, Shelby Surdyk, Sierra Moran and Erica Harris performed a 12-minute piece entitled, “For the Good of Mankind.” The piece falls under the drama portion of the program called Reader’s Theatre and references multiple published sources.
The chilling piece is told from the perspective of persons exiled from the Marshall Islands during and after the testing of the atomic bomb on Bikini Atoll by the U.S. military in 1948.
The performance covered both the horrible aftermath of the tests, such as nuclear fallout that lead to the birth of “jellyfish babies,” and the subsequent battle between the Marshallese people and the U.S. Congress.
In the piece, the listener discovers that the purpose of the tests was to gauge the effects of nuclear fallout on the Marshallese people. The three students performed a brief reenactment of officers giving the command to detonate the bomb even after warnings that the wind direction would push fallout over the populated islands. They then referenced fashion designers back in the U.S. marketing the bikini, named after the islands, and sang a portion of the song, “Itsy Bitsy, Teeny Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
All on the board agreed that the performance was exceptional, to which DDF Coach Kent Fielding said there was still a lot of work to do on the piece.
After the performance, senior Trevor Van Houten told a story from the team’s recent meet in Mt. Edgecumbe where he competed in the Humorous Interpretation of Literature portion of the program.
Faced with the daunting task of competing against a DDF veteran from Sitka who was virtually unbeaten in the category, Van Houten said, “Second place would have been enough for me.”
When the winners were being announced Van Houten described his mood as, “super excited.” When his name was announced as the winner he said, “My jaw literally hit the floor.”
“I will never forget that moment,” he said, even though they pronounced his name, “Van Who-ten.”
He went on to say that many students, himself included, may not be geared toward sports. He asked the board not to restrict the students to one activity because he felt it would lead to the end of the DDF program.
“Everybody wants that personal sense of accomplishment,” he said.
Surdyk said the extensive research she did for the piece got her more interested in politics and current events. Moran agreed and added that the project was “one of the coolest things I’ve done in my school life.”
“DDF is a different kind of workout than sports,” said Moran.
School Board Chair Chris Ellis asked the students what they would do if faced with a conflict in travel by being involved in both DDF and a school sport.
Moran said that a conflict between traveling for basketball and DDF was going to affect her in the near future, and that she decided to travel with the basketball team at that time.
Fielding said that while the team surely needs her and that it would hurt the team, “What can you do in a small school?”
“We have to look at what’s in the best interests of the students,” said Fielding.
What’s in the best interests of the students is open to some interpretation. At least one coach at the school issued an ultimatum to a student seeking to join the DDF team while still involved with volleyball. The student made the decision to switch and “people were upset about it,” said Superintendent Michael Dickens.
Other coaches are concerned that traveling for DDF meets will jeopardize their ability to meet the minimum number required practices for other sports.
The limited number of students at the school also makes it difficult for coaches to fill their rosters, so the loss of one student can affect the entire team. The same problem is true for DDF, which currently has so few students that any loss of team members could threaten the survival of the squad.
Superintendent Michael Dickens said that because DDF is a year-round activity that students would be more likely to join sports, which have a limited season during the school year. He said if students were limited to one activity that it would probably mean the end of the DDF program.
Dickens also said that while sports were certainly great for the students, they do not generally make a difference for obtaining scholarships. On the other hand, there is evidence that involvement in DDF does increase a student’s chances of obtaining partial and even full scholarships.
Fielding said that of two top girls from last year’s Haines DDF team; one received a partial scholarship to Cornell University, and the other, a full scholarship to a different school.
At their meet in Mt. Edgecumbe, Skagway’s DDF team saw more winners than just Van Houten. In the oration category of the competition, Surdyk took first place and Harris won third. Surdyk also won second place in expository speech, and she, Harris and Moran won third place in reader’s theatre.
The team is planning an exhibition in Skagway at the Eagles Hall during mid-February. The Haines DDF team will also participate in the event.
The regulations clearly state that students cannot drop one sport and move to another until the season of the first sport is concluded. However, because DDF is not a sport, the rule did not apply to the situation.
The school board decided to keep its policy unchanged and let students work with parents and coaches to determine the best course of action when faced with choices concerning their involvement in multiple teams.
If the board were to restrict students to one extracurricular activity it would affect everything from ski club to cheerleading. Also, no other Southeast district has a policy on restricting multiple student activities.
Board member Joanne Korsmo said, “Coaches need to back off a little bit.”
Member Julene Fairbanks added that they should be informed by students and work together when faced with a conflict.
Darren Belisle said that rules for joining DDF may need to be amended in some way to prevent mid-season problems for all coaches.
For now, the line between academics and sports remains separate, but future potential conflicts over travel could force the board to consider blurring that line.

CITY: Police seek 12-step recommendation for salary increases
By ANDREW CREMATA
The Skagway Police Department is seeking a significant raise in pay for all its personnel. An in-depth study by the department revealed that Skagway police salaries run, on average, 21 to 26 percent lower than those in other Southeast Alaska communities.
The department hopes to see a 12-step increase over the current pay scale implemented by city council, and warnings issued by some in the department indicate that if their requests are not endorsed, forming a union might be their only recourse.
At the Nov. 21 city council meeting, Police Chief Ray Leggett presented a packet that outlined exactly how Skagway police wage rates compare to other communities in Southeast Alaska. The packet prepared by the department factors in other pay related issues, including cost of living expenses in Skagway and pay-rate comparisons for similar jobs within the community.
The document shows that a patrol officer currently makes on average $19.90 per hour, $6.10 less than the average pay for the same position in other Southeast communities. Dispatchers earn 21 percent less than their Southeast counterparts, and a mid-level supervisor, 26 percent less. The study did not factor in the Juneau Police Department.
The department also commissioned a cost of living survey conducted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension Service. The survey sampled the prices of basic needs such as heating oil, food and electricity and concluded that it is indeed more expensive to live in Skagway than other municipalities in Southeast Alaska.
The cost of living comparisons range from seven percent higher in Skagway than Haines, to 38 percent higher than Ketchikan. The survey also found that food in Skagway is 48 percent more expensive than Anchorage.
The current pay scale was adopted in 1997. Since that time, according to the Alaska Department of Labor, the cost of living in Southeast Alaska has gone up 30 percent. However, during that same time, the starting wages for Skagway police officers has gone up only 12 percent – an 18 per cent difference in buying power from 1997 to present, said the report.
The solution offered by the department calls for retaining the existing pay scale, but eliminating the first half of its 24-steps. This means that new hires at the department would receive entry-level pay equivalent to that of the current step-12 level, and would make salaries more on par with those of other communities in Southeast.
Responding to the survey, Councilman Dan Henry said that it was evident the police department was not looking for the highest pay in the region, but rather was looking to see it raised to “a more respectable level.”
Councilman Mike Catsi agreed and said of the report, “I was shocked.... We need to do something about it.”
Catsi, Henry and other members of the council have met previously with police personnel concerning the issue. In one meeting last summer, Sergeant Ken Cox said that if a dialog could not be established the department may resort to bringing in a union.
The department feels it is justified in asking for, and receiving higher pay. In 1997, the city passed Resolution 97-6R, which adopted the current pay scale and called for it to be reviewed every two years. Since that time, no review has taken place.
City Manager Bob Ward said that the lack of reviews was an oversight and that the city would do what was necessary to correct it.
“We’re going to do what needs to be done to make it right,” he said.
This echoed a comment made by Leggett where he said, “The review fell through the cracks.... In my experience with this council, they’re going to do the right thing.”
Leggett said during an interview that the breakdown in communication during the early stages of the process was no one’s fault and that the current dialog between the city and the department was a “positive thing.”
Regarding the possibility of the department unionizing, he said, “I’m not for it. It’s bad. But it’s necessary if you have to.”
He added that no one in the department wants to go the union route, but he was proud of the effort put in by his personnel in preparing the plan, and said, “I am supporting everything the department did with this.”
The threat of bringing in a union obviously did not set well with Mayor Tim Bourcy. At the council meeting he said, “I certainly didn’t appreciate the way this was brought forward. I don’t appreciate being threatened with unions.”
Bourcy said that while he was happy with the job the department was doing, amending the pay scale for the department could mean that all city employees would need to have the same courtesy applied to their wages, which opens the door for pay-scale adjustments city-wide.
How will the city pay for wage increases for either the police department or other city employees?
“It all comes down to property taxes,” said Bourcy.
Leggett admits that the council faces a difficult issue. “They’re going to be stepping out on fragile ground,” he said. “People don’t want their taxes to go up, but it’s more palatable when they know where itís going.”
Leggett said some in the community have told him personally that they would not mind a tax increase to pay for the department’s pay raises, but it remains to be seen if those same people would support wage increases city-wide.
Sharon Bolton commented at the council meeting that she supported the plan and added, “You get what you pay for.”
Ward said that increases in pay could also come from sales tax revenues, but this would limit other projects that the city may want to tackle.
The item will go before council this week, and they will review the police department’s proposal as well as other pay scales throughout the city’s payroll.
Leggett remains optimistic. “The wages are in sad shape, but the city is doing what’s right,” he said. “I am fully confident that it will pass.”

One less for the road
High insurance shuts down taxi

By ANDREW CREMATA
Skagway no longer has a taxi service. For bar patrons who feel their ability to drive has been impaired, the idea of walking home in the cold and wind may not be an endearing prospect. The problem could impact both the Skagway Police Department and SMART bus operations as inebriated Skagwegians seek a path to their homes that doesn’t necessitate stumbling or the risk of a DUI.
“The insurance went up too high and we couldn’t afford it anymore,” said Billi Clem via telephone concerning why she and husband Greg’s Klondike Taxi business has ceased operation.
Clem said a statewide increase in commercial taxi insurance has led to other small-town taxi companies shutting down in Alaska. The higher insurance combined with payroll expenses and slow winter business made it impossible for the service to stay open.
City Manager Bob Ward said that the city just recently learned of the closure and said, “I don’t know what the future of taxis in Skagway might be.”
He said that the contract between the city and SMART, which is owned by Stuart Brown, requires that winter service be available. The taxi service mitigated the need for the city bus service to operate during the winter, but that might all change.
“There is a need for the public service to be delivered,” said Ward. “Stuart (Brown) may have to brush off a bus and have it ready.”
How will the closure affect the police department?
“The taxi was great for us,” said Sergeant Ken Cox. “They did a lot to help out with DUI problems.”
He also said that before the taxi service was available some people made a regular habit out of calling the police department to get a ride home. He is concerned that giving rides could once again become an “every night” problem. While the department does not mind the occasional necessity, Cox said that it is not their job to cater to those who abuse the privilege.
Meanwhile, Clem has put the taxi business up for sale, and she says someone who could devote their own time to the business could make a living at it. However, the business is also listed in Haines and Juneau, and they have not received any offers from interested Skagwegians yet.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

CANDY CANE LANE

June Harper, Karen Ward and Dottie Demark walk the holiday-lighted path between the hillside homes of Chris Maggio and Denise Caposey and Chris and Kathy Wassman during the annual Yuletide Open Houses held last weekend. More events are scheduled this weekend – see Yultide page. – Jeff Brady

YULETIDE 2007: Beginnings and Schedule

• SHS & SKAGWAY ACTIVITIES: Etue qualifies for State - wrestlers take home sportsmanship award; Volleyball team takes third place - Hahn sisters make all-conference

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