Toys come alive on stage to play a joke on Santa’s helper, Nix, during the opening performance of “The Christmas Toyshop” by the Skagway School Drama Club Monday night. See story under headlines with a link to more photos from the play. Photo by Jeff Brady

Thanksgiving week brings record rains

Skagway escapes with some damage to Dyea Road, flooded basements

In the days preceding Thanksgiving, Skagway waded through a week of wild weather that boasted record high temperatures, strong winds and torrential rainfall. The unusual late-fall weather led to closures and treacherous conditions on the Klondike Highway. Localized flooding in Skagway and Dyea left residents and motorists washed out, and the tropical-storm force winds blew non-stop for more than a week.
“We had a series of low-pressure systems that developed over the east Pacific and moved up through the Gulf of Alaska,” said Tracey Ress of the National Weather Service from her office in Juneau.
Ress explained that these systems had some “tropical weather” associated with them. The tropical weather is not the remnants of hurricanes but rather warm air brought to our doorstep from the sandy beaches of Hawaii.
The first of the low-pressure systems brought the warm air and caused Skagway’s temperature to reach as high as 51 degrees on Wednesday, Nov. 17. In fact, from the 17th through the 23rd, the daily high temperature reached at least 48 degrees, marking almost a full week of record highs for Skagway.
Each subsequent low-pressure system brought with it more rain, causing the NWS to issue flood warnings from Nov. 21-24.
Not only was the rainfall big, so were the raindrops.
Ress said, “You may have noticed that the raindrops were bigger. This is because of the tropical moisture associated with the weather pattern.”
Skagway has seen its share of wet weather since the end of summer leaving the ground considerably saturated leading up to Monday Nov. 21, which saw 1.22 inches of rainfall reported at the Skagway airport. The following day, 1.86 inches fell.
Those who ventured out of their homes on Wednesday were witness to a raging Skagway River, the closure of Congress Way due to potential flooding, and deep pools of standing water all over town. The overflow of streams turned the roadsides leading out of Skagway into a series of newly formed waterfalls that caused rivulets to form spontaneously alongside, over, and under roads and driveways with some extensive damage to the “Hackett Hill” portion of the Dyea Road.

Water runs down a ditch on ‘Hackett Hill’ crossing Dyea Road and causing erosion that had to be repaired by DOT. Andrew Cremata

That same Wednesday, wind gusts were recorded as high as 63 miles per hour, prompting the NWS to issue another warning that going outside could pose a threat to life and limb due to the potential for flying debris.
The Klondike Highway presented its own serious threats for motorists, prompting full and part-day closures due to avalanches and “black ice.” Even when the road was open, Department of Transportation recordings on highway conditions warned that travel was ill-advised.
Coming home from Whitehorse Tom Lux and Candace Cahill hit a patch of ice obscured by snow, and ran off the road near Pitchfork Falls on the Klondike Highway. “The snow was eight inches deep on the pass,” said Lux.
Lux was pulled out by Keith Knorr from DOT.
After the highway reopened, Skagway restaurant owner Colette Hisman was seriously injured on Friday, Nov. 25. On a curve at Rat Lake about halfway between Carcross and Whitehorse, her SUV encountered an invisible black ice patch that sent the vehicle off the highway into a deep ravine. Hisman and her daughter were wearing seat belts, which saved their lives, said a Carcross ambulance attendant. While her 15-year-old daughter Meredith got out with just minor injuries, Colette Hisman was transported to the Whitehorse hospital for a collapsed lung and broken ribs, and then on to Anchorage for further observation. She is recovering and was due to come home this week.
The Dyea Road suffered damage along its length, mostly due to water runoff from the mountainsides. In his report to City Council, City Manager Bob Ward said,” “A portion of the road at Hackett Hill washed away. We provided an excavator and operator to assist them (state) in restoring that section of road.”
DOT crews were already working on shoring up the worst hit sections of the Dyea Road as of the 23rd. While rain was still falling, they focused a lot of their attention on the southern base of Hackett Hill where water cut across the road and did significant damage to a large section of road.
This week, local DOT foreman Keith Knorr said most of the work was now completed, but he won’t have a total damage estimate for a while. DOT installed new culverts to handle the runoff.
The road issues were not the only problem for Dyea residents caused by the heavy rains. “The West Creek road is completely washed out and has been closed,” said Ward. He added that one of the worst sections is just above the first bench.
A Public Works meeting, scheduled for this Thursday, will address the future of the road and whether the city will do a series of “band-aid patches” with very limited access for potential users, or spend the money necessary for an all-weather road with better access.
Ward said that at present there are two “small but motivated groups” who use West Creek Road: ATV users and firewood gatherers. The city itself may also want to dispose of some of its own land in the area.

Left, a culvert on Nov. 22 nears capacity as it spills water from the east hillside into Pullen Creek, forcing the city to put up precautionary barricades on Congress Way. Right, Water from the hillside backed up Dairy Creek at the intersection of Dyea Road and Klondike Highway. Jeff Brady

The City of Skagway has been aware for some time of the potential for a Skagway River flood of massive proportions that is referred to as the “100 year event.” This event would be caused by high levels of rainfall combined with significant melting of snow and ice.
Coincidentally, the city had just commenced its flood-control project in anticipation of this event just before the heavy rains started.
“We are building the new dike to a much higher level,” said Paul Taylor, the project manager.
Even with the heavy rain and runoff during the recent storms, Taylor explained that water levels were nowhere near what they would be if there was such an event. “The water would have to come up about six feet (more) over the entire width of the river,” he said.
The term “100 year event” may be a bit misleading. Long-time resident Barb Kalen remembers three such events in her lifetime, one in the 30s, 1942 and 1967. During the latter, she described the levels of the Skagway River as being, “bank to bank, right across the river up to the top of the dike.”
She said the flood of ‘42 could have been a potential disaster but for the Army Corps of Engineers, who were stationed in Skagway during World War II.
Comparatively, the recent rainfall paled in comparison. “This (2005 storm) wasn’t even a flood,” said Kalen.
While the banks of the Skagway River were safe from overflowing this time around, some basements in Skagway and Dyea took on water. Charlotte Jewell faced flooding in her rental property on 8th Ave, during Thanksgiving week. One of Jewell’s employees discovered 18 inches of standing water in the basement where she stores many of her bulbs and plants during the winter for her business, Jewell Gardens.
“The dahlias and begonias really got hit,” said Jewell.
She speculated that the rising of the water table was at least partially responsible for the flooding in the two-year old building due to the fact that as of Dec. 6, she was still pumping water from the basement.
Around 5 a.m. on Nov. 23, Jill Cox was experiencing a “severe continuous brownout” at her home on the Klondike Highway. She suspected a downed power line due to the high winds, but was unable to find it. A passing motorist spotted the problem near the corral of her neighbor’s horses and reported it to police.
“A tree had fallen on the power line,” said Cox. She was without power until the problem was fixed around noon.
More wet weather is expected in the coming week, but not to the proportions of Thanksgiving week.
All in all, Skagway fared better than many other communities in Southeast – some are even petitioning the state for disaster relief.

Mero musters cast of 40 for ‘Christmas Toy Shop’

Every play has its share of chaos. Actors’ egos, missed cues, costumes with a missing button or a hanging thread. But add into the mix a cast of 40, mostly elementary school children, and the result is bedlam.
At least, that’s the way it looked at the dress rehearsal this past Sunday for the Skagway School Drama Club’s production of “The Christmas Toy Shop.” Children with missing tights, last minute script changes, and a hot chocolate snack break with sticky fingers, all threatened to undermine the performance.
By the second run-through, however, things were running more smoothly. Director Blaine Mero sat at a table in the center of the room, tapping his hand to keep the beat of the background music, or jingles of a bell.
The play was scheduled to run Monday, with a dinner beforehand, and a second show on Tuesday. Due to illness amongst several cast and crew members, the second show was postponed until Wednesday.
“The Christmas Toy Shop” is Mero’s 13th locally directed play. Mero came to Skagway more than 15 years ago to act in and direct the Days of ‘98 show, and was with the show for three years before pursuing other ventures. “After that first summer, I was hooked,” he said Tuesday morning from Now and Then, his shop on Fifth.
Mero holds a Master’s in Playwriting and Directing from Kansas University. He was the box office manager for a $4 million dollar dinner theater in Denver and lived in San Francisco before moving to Skagway.
“There have been a few winters I’ve been other places, but for the most part, this is home,” he says. “It’s so peaceful here. It’s nice not to have to commute. I spent my life at work and then commuting to and from work. I love the simplicity of Skagway.”
But directing plays at the school isn’t always simple. The sheer size of this year’s cast proved to be a challenge. Says Mero: “The hardest thing is finding a script that’s big enough for all the kids that want to participate. This year’s script was originally written for 15. But enough kids showed up that we wound up writing in parts for another 25 players.”
The cast size, and player, varies from play to play. Although there are the “regulars,” (kids who turn out for each audition) there is also some turnover. “The kids have to be at least in second grade,” Mero says. “This year there were a whole new slew of kids that were finally old enough.”
What’s obvious to anyone watching the rehearsal is how much Mero enjoys what he does, despite rumors and grumblings to the contrary. “As much as they think I’m the dictator, the kids keep coming back.”
But Mero says the discipline, especially with a cast that size, is necessary. “The thing I’ve done is set boundaries from the get go. They know what they need to do, and know the consequences if they don’t. If you’re straight about it, and follow through, there are hardly any problems.”
Because the script centers around toys who come to life, Mero needed to be creative with the costuming. “I always ask people in the community if they have anything that might be used for the play. If they have something that works, I use it. If not, I give it back.”
The passage of time is indicative of many things, and Mero says the difference in costuming between his first few plays and now is astounding. “I was looking through the costume collection the other day and saw some of the costumes from my first year here. We’ve accumulated so much since then. I’m really picky now about how the show looks. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
And as for the bedlam, the costumes, the postponed performance. Well, that’s just all part of the drama, isn’t it?

SANTA'S WORKSHOP: Pictures from the Skagway Drama Club production; "Santaland Diaries" coming

Coal venture would create 250 Yukon jobs

Whitehorse Star
DIVISION MOUNTAIN, YUKON – Division Mountain near Braeburn has enough coal to employ 250 people and supply markets such as China for the next 20 years.
That’s the opinion of Basil Botha, the president of the Cash Minerals, the company that holds leases on the mountain.
Speaking to members of the Yukon media on the mountaintop in October, Botha said exploration on the mountain had revealed “38 million tonnes of coal along a six-kilometre strike,” and that the company was now looking to complete a feasibility study before year’s end.
“We have resources for at least the next 20 years,” Botha said.
His company would be looking to get the open-pit mining operation up and running by late 2007, he added.
It would contract out the mining work and would be using the port at Skagway to send the coal to Asian markets.
“We would have about 70 trucks a day on the road,” he said. Botha said he expected his company would need to raise $32 to $35 million (Cdn.) to get the project up and running. It would require power from the Yukon’s power grid. “Power is a concern,” said Botha.
Premier Dennis Fentie said his government has no plans to pursue coal-fired power generation in the Yukon.
In July, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) agreed to spend up to $50,000 (US) on a feasibility study on the reopening of the dormant ore concentrates terminal in Skagway.
Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski said he was optimistic about putting the terminal, which has been dormant since 1998, back into use.
“I’m optimistic about putting this state asset to work,” Murkowski said in July.
The Skagway terminal was built in 1969 to serve as a warehouse and shipping operation for metals coming from the Yukon – mostly lead and zinc concentrates from the Faro mines. Thse mines first closed in 1982, and were reopened by unsuccessful operators Curragh in the late 1980s and Anvil Range in the mid-1990s.
With legislative approval, the Alaska development authority issued bonds and bought the facility from the White Pass and Yukon Corp. for $25 million US in 1990. After five years of inactivity, the metal structure was dismantled by AIDEA in 2003 due to concerns about corrosion. The ship loader and concrete pad for a new building remain.

WP&YR focuses on port interest

While it long ago sold its interest in the Skagway Ore Terminal, the White Pass and Yukon Route still controls the dock. And any new ore haul would have to mesh with its existing cruise ship operations.
WP&YR President Gary C. Danielson said recently that he has met with Cash Minerals regarding the use of the Ore Dock.
“It’s open seven and a half months of the year, and there are potential windows during the (visitor) season, depending on the time it takes (to load the ships),” he said. “There are windows of opportunity. We are open to business.
“That being said, there may be other issues regarding 70 trucks of coal coming through town.”
Danielson said the company would work with AIDEA and whomever the shipper is to “do the best we can.”
The railroad has been mentioned as a possible coal hauler, either from the old Utah terminal outside Whitehorse or via a possible extension. An extension to the Braeburn area from Whitehorse was considered many years ago.
Would the railroad consider a coal haul? Danielson said the WP&YR must weigh many factors.
“We will consider anything if if makes a financial case,” he said. “But we will not destroy our current business model that we have in place for something that may or may not be there in the future. Nor will we upset the present economic base that we have, based on speculation.”
For the time being, he said the railroad will work together with all entities, including the Yukon Government and State of Alaska, to “make sure there is a viable port here in Skagway.” – JB


ENJOYING THE MOMENT – Skagway seniors Audrey Neitzer and Tiffanie Potter share a laugh during a break in the action against rival Hoonah during a volleyball seeing tournament in Skagway at the end of November. The Lady Panthers took second place at regionals later in the week and advanced to State Tourney. See story and more photos in Sports below. Jeff Brady

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP: Hoonah comes back to take region, Panther spikers off to State; Wrestlers wrap up season; Girls basketball team doubtful; Harlem Ambassadors coming

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