Dancers from the Carcross-Tagish First Nation are joined by community members during the open house for the new Skagway Tribal Community Center on Sunday, Dec. 5. About 100 people attended. See more pictures and memorable quotations from this historic event in features below. JB

Long distance service down nearly a week

Iced-up repeater loses battery power

Due a to freeze-up situation at a repeater site on Halitu Ridge, long distance and cell phone service out of Skagway was down for nearly a week Nov. 27-Dec. 3. Then, a few days after a temporary fix, it went down again.
“I’m not very happy with AT&T-Alascom’s response to this issue,” Mayor Tim Bourcy stated last Thursday, during the fifth day of no service. “If the City Council has no objection, I’d like to lodge a formal complaint with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.”
Bourcy said the situation was unacceptable for a border town. Up at the border station on the Klondike Highway, there were problems. Without going into detail, Port Director Boyd Worley said, “It kept us from doing our normal day to day work and compromised our abilities.”
Bad weather prevented a helicopter from reaching the site on the ridge southwest of Skagway until Friday the 3rd, said Cathy Opinsky, public affairs officer for AT&T-Alascom. She said the repeater initially went in and out on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, then went down completely the following Tuesday.
At the Thursday night council meeting, Dave Vogel, manager of local utility Alaska Power & Telephone, said they had been contacting AT&T-Alascom about the situation. Internet access through AP&T’s submarine cable to Haines was still working, as were satellite phones. Fortunately, there was only one emergency during the week, and a call was able to be placed through the AP&T office, he said.
Weather had cleared the next morning, and AP&T alerted the long distance carrier about 9 a.m. and the helicopter was able to get to the site. By 11 a.m. some service was restored after a generator charged the repeater’s batteries.
“This whole time we did not know what had happened,” Opinsky said on Friday after service had been restored. “They found that the solar panels had iced over so badly that the site was not getting power.”
In addition to de-icing the panels, they left the generator there as a backup source to the usual backup, a wind generator that shuts down during severe winds.
Opinsky said the system has been very successful and reliable – there are 40 such repeaters that bounce signals between Anchorage and Southeast. “Had our techs been able to get out sooner it would have been fixed a lot sooner,” she said.
But to prevent further problems, they went to a backup plan. “If (the icing) happened again we left a backup generator for power,” she said. “It sure caused us to think about it more.”
“We’re crossing our fingers that they’ve fixed it,” said AP&T vice president Stan Selmer on Friday. “From AP&T’s and the city’s standpoint that’s hoping a fix is not putting our head in the sand and letting it happen again.”
It did happen again. Last Sunday night, service went down and was not restored until Monday afternoon, Vogel said on Tuesday. The culprit: not enough fuel to last the weekend.
AT&T technicians had to get off the mountain Friday due to darkness. When they returned Monday, they left a set of propane-based generators, which “apparently will be good enough for any weather the rest of the season,” Vogel said.
Vogel said AP&T bore the brunt of complaints during the ordeal, “especially since no one could call out.” The local utility has begun discussions with AT&T-Alascom on finding a better way to service Skagway, “knowing full well there is fiber in the submarine cable (owned by AP&T) that serves Haines.”

Omnibus bill passes with $2 million for seawalk project

Listed in legislation as Skagway Bus Terminal

As the seawall project begins along Congress Way, the next component of waterfront development has fallen into place with the help of the federal government.
The city was successful in its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. over the past few months to have $2 million included in the massive H.R. 4818 Consolidated Appropriations Act for the Skagway Bus Terminal, a/k/a seawalk development. The bill passed Congress and is on the president’s desk.
The money is in the Federal Transit Authority project list for Alaska. A key component of the seawalk project is a visitor center/bus terminal/tour shack at the south end of Congress Way.
At the Dec. 2 City Council meeting, Mayor Tim Bourcy described the sequence of events that led to the funding. With lobbyist John Walsh, he had traveled to D.C. earlier in the year with a request for $4 million for both the seawalk and small boat harbor expansion.
At the suggestion of the Alaska Congressional Delegation, the funding was split into two parts, Walsh wrote in his report. At the end of the tourist season, the city bolstered the funding request with 2004 visitor statistics “to remind them of the increasing pressure Skagway faces due to high passenger volume,” and the bus terminal money was included.
“This is fairly exciting news,” Bourcy said, adding “we will pursue the harbor improvements in the next session.”
Council member Dan Henry added, “The luck of the timing was excellent with the other projects out there.”
Many kudos were exchanged. The seawall is due to be finished in May, and the bus terminal/seawalk project can begin at the end of next summer. Its design is 65 percent complete, and construction cost is estimated at $2.2 million. – JB

Juneau Access EIS delayed till end of Dec.

FHWA: No meeting yet with city, no ruling on Dewey Lakes

The Juneau Access Environmental Impact Statement release date has been pushed back yet again - till the end of this month.
Gary Paxton, Southeast Region Director for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said last week that EIS planners are dealing with “11th hour issues that have come in from different resource agencies.”
However, the issue of whether the Dewey Lakes Recreation Area above Skagway qualifies for federal 4(f) status may not be decided by the time the report is released.
Scheduling conflicts had prevented a meeting between city officials, the Federal Highways Administration and DOT over the past few weeks.
Karen Schmidt, assistant division administrator for FHWA, last week confirmed “there has been no 4(f) call yet.” She said the draft EIS can be released without the determination, and then added as a “stand alone evaluation” at a later date.
Schmidt said the city attorney contacted the agency two months ago to try to set up a meeting, but it did not happen. Mayor Tim Bourcy was not available initially, then FHWA Alaska administrator David Miller was away on a family matter and not due back in Juneau until the middle of this week.
Bourcy said city officials will still try and meet with them. “I don’t know if they can make that determination without meeting with us, since we are the landowner,” Bourcy said.
Paxton said he had a cordial conversation with Bourcy a couple weeks ago and hopes to “move forward in a coherent fashion.”
One project that is moving forward is the Dyea Road Improvements project. It recently was awarded to Channel Construction of Juneau for $1,980,110.
“It’s a really important project requested by citizens,” Paxton said. “We were glad to get money from the (federal) highway safety improvement program to do that.”
The project involves spot widening and safety improvements at six locations between Mile 4.2 and Mile 8.1.
DOT project manager is Paul Taylor, who divides time between his Skagway home and Juneau. Taylor said more about the project schedule will be known after a pre-construction meeting in Skagway this week. Notices for blasting and possible closures are expected after the first of the year, he said, and the contractor is required to be completed by the end of June.
One other Skagway project on tap for this winter – a new snow shack for DOT equipment up the highway – has been delayed a year, Paxton said. Hamilton Construction was the apparent low bidder on the job, but ultimately declined to do the project after realizing it was too far underbid. The state then rejected all bids and will likely scale the project back and rebid it in the spring, Paxton said.
“Hopefully next year we will get that facility up there for those citizens who do the work,” Paxton said, “so they aren’t working with a submarginal facility.”

BREAK IN TRAINING – Jay Burnham flashes a smile during Special Forces exercises in the New Mexico desert. Photo courtesy of Willeke Burnham

Over There!

An update on Skagway's men in uniform

It is hard to imagine during a peaceful Skagway holiday season that half way around the world war is raging from the deserts of Afghanistan to the crumbling cities of Iraq. As Skagway citizens drag themselves to the polls for the second time in as many months, this time to decide over a strong mayor or city manager type government, U.S. and coalition troops are trying to secure elections in Iraq for the first time, ever.
While the images from the front lines can be overwhelming, and the controversy surrounding the fundamental ideals behind the war embitter Americans toward one another politically, no one can deny the fortitude of those men and women who face day to day perils. These hazards are difficult to imagine when the only struggle one may face watching the drama unfold on TV is where the remote control might have been misplaced.
For many families in Skagway the situation is a little more personal.
On Jan. 16, 2005, Benjamin Burnham will celebrate his first birthday. Around the same time, his dad Jay Burnham will be leaving for Iraq. In the interim, Jay will be home for the holidays visiting his son and wife Willeke.
“I just spoke with him,” said Willeke from her home this week. “He just got back from doing (training) missions.”
Burnham is presently stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas. “Technically it is in New Mexico, the base is very big,” said Willeke. “Jay is receiving specialized training in room to room clearings. He will be (in Iraq) for the elections.”
Burnham’s tour will be for one year, and Willeke already misses him. She relates, “It’s nice to live in a town like Skagway. I want to thank everyone for their support.”
Evern Dorn left Skagway for basic training on Oct. 19. His wife Allie and daughter Skye, who will celebrate her second birthday on Feb. 26, will be in Jacksonville, Florida to visit him during the holidays.
“Evern is homesick,” said Allie. “He said to give his address out to anyone who wants it.”
Dorn is in boot camp in Ft. Benning, Georgia. “He is not sure what his plans are after basic training,” said Allie. “He is lucking out though, because he doesn’t have to do the moving into our new house.”
While Allie has been handling the affairs at home including the move into their new home Evern has been adjusting to life on base. Allie explains, “When he first started (basic training) he slept on the floor so he wouldn’t have to make his bed in the morning. He said making the bed is very difficult.”
Allie looks forward to their visit over Christmas. “I miss him,” she said.
Carol Nelson gave an update on former Skagway residents Jake and Josh Sims. She relates, “Josh is out of the service and is living in Suffolk, Virginia. Jake is stationed in Ft. Bragg and got married this last year in June to a North Carolina girl. As far as I know, he still jumps out of airplanes.”
Donna Moore brought up to date the status of the youngest brother of the Moore family, Jimmy Moore. His brothers are residents Pat and Steve Moore.
“He just got back from Afghanistan for the third time,” said Donna.
Margaret Grisham is the grandmother of Skagway High School graduate Jaime Westfall. She commented on his present whereabouts, “He is still in the Navy stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. He has (served) on the aircraft carriers the Nimitz and the Vinson.”
Rick Ackerman will be back in Skagway over the holidays after finishing his first one-year tour of duty in Iraq. His mother, Shirley Hunz said, “After the first of the year he will be heading back to Iraq for a second (one-year) tour of duty.”
Families of those in the military provided addresses for the men in uniform so readers who wish to send them mail over the holiday season may do so. They are as follows:
• Jaime Westfall, 6710 Collins Rd. Apt. 2604, Jacksonville, FL, 32244.
• Jimmy Moore, 9545 Gooden Dr., Fayetteville N.C., 28314.
• Spc. J.L. Burnham, C Co. 2-299 MRCS 29th BCT, Bldg. 2444 Cassidy Rd., Ft. Bliss, TX, 79916.
• R.N. #314 Pvt. Dorn, Evern, D Co. 21st 58th IN ITB, 9375 Conway Dr., Ft. Benning, GA 31905.
Addresses for Jake and Josh Sims were not available at deadline.


Helping 'tell the story'

New Superintendent Jim Corless brings history, planning background

New Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Superintendent Jim Corless is a well-traveled National Park Service historian and planner, but he believes he has found a “perfect match” with the Skagway job.
Corless, 52, is just the fifth superintendent in the park’s 28-year history, and he and his wife Mary Jane are settling in after moving here in mid-October. They have a college-age daughter, Virginia, who is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Corless didn’t start out with the Park Service. Born and raised in a Maryland suburb outside Washington, D.C., he initially obtained an associate degree in restaurant management, but said it was not conducive to family life – his wife would be heading in the door from her job as a law clerk as he was heading out for his night job. So he went back to college at the University of Maryland, pursuing a degree in history, and taking a lot of parks and recreation courses.
This landed him an internship at the White House, working with NPS, which manages the collections. Corless said he spent his days either at the warehouse or in the china room at the mansion. One of the highlights was being invited to a final reception given by then-President Jimmy Carter for the White House staff.
From there, the list of parks he has worked at is long, but there is a pattern to his resume: Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park (Maryland), Independence Hall NHP (Philadelphia), San Antonio Mission NHP (Texas), Fort Frederica National Monument (Georgia), Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pennsylvania), Yosemite National Park (California), and Lowell NHP (Massachusetts).
The longest tenures were seven years as interpretive and park planner at Yosemite and four years as chief of interpretation at Lowell.
“You can see the pattern,” he relates. “I was either at a historical park or an interpretive planner or historian at a non-historical park.”
While at Yosemite seven years ago, Mary Jane began working as an independent cruise consultant/travel agent, and booked them on a Carnival Cruise to Alaska. They arrived in Skagway on the old Jubilee during an overcast, low ceiling day.
“I had no idea what the surrounds were like but we enjoyed the day experiencing the Historic District,” he explained, and on their way home, they talked about coming back.
“We had a discussion about how we could experience Alaska by living here, and that opened the door,” Corless said. “I tried twice. I interviewed when Bruce Noble got the job, and when he moved on I put in my application again.”
Corless said the Skagway-based park is a “perfect match” of cultural resources and historical experience to go with his interpretive and park planning background.
Skagway is not alone in being a park inside a city, and Corless has worked at many. Past superintendents have found themselves in conflicts with the city or residents on some issues, most recently saving the Ice House last winter. Corless said the closest thing in his background to compare would have been a debate in Lowell over the band list for a folk festival. The city wanted to expand from a pure folk lineup to more popular groups, while the park resisted and won an effort to preserve the historical nature of the program, which still drew 250,000 people.
After being on the job for six weeks now, Corless sees the city as the same partner that welcomed the park here in the 1970s to begin preservation of the Historic District.
“It seems to me that we work hand in hand with preservation,” he said. “In Skagway it is a relatively easy and non-controversial task. There are economic and preservation drivers, and we have to be aware of them all. The Park Service mission is to preserve the stories that the buildings tell.”
Corless said he has a “good amount of experience working with partners,” his biggest accomplishment being management of the largest education program in the NPS with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, in which they hosted 60,000 students a year.
In Skagway, he has already taken Noble’s place on the Dyea Community Advisory Council and the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau, attended some City Council meetings, and is meeting twice monthly with the mayor and city manager.
At a recent City Council meeting, a member was upset that the city was not involved in an early update of the management agreement between the state and NPS for state lands on the Chilkoot Trail. Corless looked into it – the agreement was signed with little change from previous versions at the state’s request, about two years before it expired, he said. But Corless said in three years, when it comes up for renewal again, the city will be notified.
For its annual local compendium of regulations that are up to the superintendent’s discretion, the city will be approached in January, he added. In the past, the city has had input on things like mushroom picking and campsite sizes.
“It’s my intent to keep the city involved with what we are doing,” he concluded.
One partnership that he hopes will be fulfilled in the coming year is acquisition of the Rapuzzi Collection.
Corless said last week that the Park Service is anticipating a formal “offer to sell” from Rapuzzi heir Phyllis Brown shortly. Then, once an agreement for purchase is in place, “we will be able to work with one or more foundations for the acquisition.”
City Council recently reaffirmed its support for the acquisition and a possible 10 percent contribution, the federal government has given authorization for spending up to $500,000, and the Rasmuson Foundation is interested in helping.
Corless said it has taken a long time to assess the collection’s value because of how it is stored, but that significant progress has been made. “We are ready to move,” he said.
Another high priority for Corless is developing a cultural landscape management plan for Dyea. He said there are a lot of areas besides the false front for possible exhibits where stories can be told.
He also wants to see more recognition of the Klondike International Park, and is planning a small park in the area next to the Trail Center at Second and Broadway. It will have flag poles and exhibits which will tell about historic sites from Seattle to Dawson City.
Ongoing projects include:
• Ethnographic overview and assessment - This important publication has just been completed with contributions by the Skagway Traditional Council and others (see press release).
“I look at these recommendations as direction to me,” he told the STC open house gathering last Sunday. “I look forward to working regularly and repeatedly with the council here.”
• Moore House property– The grounds are being returned to the way it looked when Ben Moore and his family lived there in the early 1900s. This landscape project involved taking down some trees while preserving the ones Moore planted, and restoring a garden fence and chicken coop. The adjacent Goldberg Cigar Store will remain an exterior exhibit, and there are no plans as yet for the Ice House, which moved there last spring from private property across Fifth Ave. Corless said he was glad it was saved.
“It is a good example of a non-commercial back building,” he said. “Usually we preserve mostly iconic buildings and leave out things of less value. But like archives, they help tell the story. It’s important that we save them as well.”
• White Pass Trail – A funding request is in for archaeological work to begin on the old trail. Sensitive areas will be identified for preservation and collection potential, he said. A survey has to be completed before opening up the trail for greater access, as mandated in the park’s management plan. But it’s “several years away,” he said.
• New collections building - Money is in the Dept. of Interior appropriations bill on the president’s desk for construction of the new facility at 2nd and Alaska. If approved, the project will go out to bid in January. The building is needed to store all of the items that keep coming in from archaeological work, especially from the White Pass Trail. “Every nail contributes to the puzzle,” Corless said.


“HUMBUG” - Scrooge, played by Jason O’Daniel, yells at carolers outside his office during the production of "A Christmas Carol", directed by Blaine Mero, had great songs coordinated by musical director Karin Gittins on piano. JB


• SKAGWAY TRIBAL COUNCIL OPEN HOUSE: Memorable sayings and pictures

• SPORTS ROUNDUP: Crystal Ketterman takes third in region, off to State with second place volleyball team; Triple OT J-hi thriller in Haines

• 'A CHRISTMAS CAROL': School play brings Dickens classic to life with music

• YULETIDE 2004: School play "A Christmas Carol" opens festivities on Dec. 3-4, full weekend planned for Dec. 9-12

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