Members of the Skagway Community Chorus threw larger than life shadows for the silhouetted crowd at the annual Yuletide Christmas Tree Lighting downtown on Dec. 5. See more photos in our Yuletide Gallery.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

Borough Manager Alan Sorum resigns, cites ‘work environment’

Sorum will return to Valdez, takes job at PWS Community College


Skagway Borough Manager Alan Sorum tendered his resignation in an e-mail to the mayor and borough assembly members on Nov. 24 while on his Thanksgiving break. The letter stated that his contract would require him to work until Jan. 16, but he would like to leave sooner.
“Considering the work environment at City Hall, I would request mutual consent from the assembly to make my last day on about January 5, 2009,” the e-mail stated.
Sorum noted he would be willing to consult for the borough to carry numerous projects forward “until a new manager is hired and up to speed.”
“Working for the municipality has been exciting and, for the most part, rewarding,” he wrote.
Sorum’s resignation caught Skagway Borough Assembly members by surprise. They learned of the e-mail just prior to a special session on Nov. 24 on other issues and did not discuss the resignation publicly until their first meeting in December.
Sorum was back in Skagway at the beginning of last week but was not present for the Dec. 4 meeting. In a phone interview, he had little else to say about his reasons for wanting to leave.
Sorum was asked if the resignation had anything to do with an executive session on Nov. 6, in which the assembly met for about an hour with both Sorum and Municipal Clerk Marj Harris.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Sorum said.
Sorum would only say that he did have a new job lined up – as director of training for Prince William Community College in Valdez, his former hometown, and that he would like to leave sooner than the 60-days required in his contract. The new job oversees various industry employee training programs through the college.
The new job will reunite Sorum with his wife, Ruthie Knight, who has been in Valdez since the end of August. She was required to return to her teaching job at Valdez High School this fall after a year’s leave to teach in the Skagway School. The couple also had lost a son earlier this year.
But Sorum would not say if there were personal reasons for his resignation, nor would he comment on his accomplishments, give any advice to his successor, or state any regrets.
“I don’t want to say, it wouldn’t be productive,” Sorum said.
Mayor Tom Cochran said he was not surprised by the resignation, but had hoped Sorum would stick it out. The manager was toward the end of his second one-year contract.
The mayor shed some light on what happened.
“Basically, Alan feels there’s a portion of the administrative staff that he can’t work with,” Cochran said. “We tried to resolve it…. After the executive session, we thought we were going to have time to address everyone’s concerns and go from there. Personally I don’t feel we had enough time to fix what was brought up to us.”
That’s why the pre-Thanksgiving e-mail caught everyone off-guard.
At the Dec. 4 meeting, assembly member Dan Henry said he would have liked an opportunity to talk to Sorum and change his mind.
“I thought he was doing a fine job,” Henry said. “I don’t know what happened between the executive session and that Monday (the 24th).”
Cochran said he was personally “a little bummed” about the resignation. “I don’t want to lose our manager and start the (search) process over again, but I think he has pretty much made up his mind.”
The assembly did not formally accept the resignation on Dec. 4 because of the unresolved termination date, but they did set in motion a search for a new manager.
Members were not inclined to let Sorum out of his contract early because of the numerous capital projects he was managing. Cochran said he would talk to Sorum about the 60-day requirement and his offer to continue on as a consultant.
Assembly members talked about the need to resolve what may have led to the resignation during an upcoming review of the personnel policy.
“We still have to take care of the issues that caused this to happen,” said Mike Korsmo, adding that they need to look at how the staff is aligned and how it will work when a new manager is on board. Korsmo chaired the last manager hiring committee, but opted to let others do the hiring this time around.
Cochran appointed L.C. Cassidy, Mark Schaefer, and himself to the hiring committee. He will add two at-large members from the public at the Dec. 18 meeting.
Cassidy sat on the committee two years ago. “A lot of the groundwork has been done already,” she said.

Borough requests ‘private financing’ for RV park purchase to lessen impact on land fund


The Skagway Borough Assembly is hoping the Catholic Diocese will be amenable to a request for “private financing” much of the $1.85 million asking price for the Garden City RV Park property.
The private financing idea came up in discussions with financial advisor Skip Elliott over the past two weeks, after concerns were raised at a town meeting about the possibility of using a large portion of the J.M. Frey Land Fund for the purchase.
Due to tumbling markets, the land fund’s value has dropped in recent months from nearly $3.1 million to about $2.8 million. If $1.85 million were taken from the fund for the RV park purchase, then the land fund’s value would drop to less than $1 million.
Finance Committee chair Dan Henry said that the idea for the Diocese “carrying the paper” came up during one of his weekly conversations with Elliott. “It could be a good situation for them and for us,” he said.
Elliott attended the Dec. 3 and 4 finance and assembly meetings. He said he was touched by many in the community who had approached him after reading about the fund in a Nov. 26 News article, and were concerned about protecting the land fund. In the article, Elliott explained that the land fund was set up to grow over 20-30 years so its interest could be used to stabilize property taxes.
One alternative other than using the land fund for the RV park purchase would be approval of a bond issue, but Elliott explained that selling bonds in the bond market “is not good right now.” He agreed with Henry that the “simplest solution” for the purchase would be to contact the Diocese about the possibility of financing.
“You will want a low rate for as long as possible, and they’ll want a high rate for as short as possible,” Elliott speculated, and suggested that the solution might be working on a stepped interest rate with no pre-pay option.
Elliott said he would be willing to act as a liaison “as a freebie on my part,” and felt that it was “something we could do expeditiously.”
The advantage of private financing would be less impact on the land fund, Elliott stated, though he said the fund probably would need to be tapped to buy out RV park owner John Garland, who has a long-term lease with the Diocese for the old Pius X Mission property. Assembly members suggested those details should be worked out between the Diocese and Garland.
During discussion of the purchase, Mayor Tom Cochran said the borough would need to make changes in code to move forward with the suggestion. He said he would not want to proceed without the public having a say. Cochran said he favored safeguarding the land fund, suggesting that if it were allowed for real estate purchases, then all money from sales of the purchased land would have to go back into the land fund.
Henry said they were faced with an unusual situation: a willing seller making available to them the largest flat piece of property in Skagway. He said private financing would allow for the mechanics to complete the purchase while preserving the land fund.
Mike Korsmo then made a motion to pursue private financing with the Diocese for purchase of Garden City RV Park. It passed 5-0. Dave Hunz was absent.

Workers apply the new roof on the expanded ore terminal. JB

$1.6 million ore terminal expansion nears completion

The state-owned Skagway Ore Terminal is being expanded by about 15,000 square feet to accommodate the needs of the Minto Mine in the Yukon Territory.
Work began on the project this fall and is expected to be completed by the middle of this month, said James Hemsath, deputy director of development for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.
In an e-mail last week to the News, Hemsath said the addition was made at the request of Sherwood Copper to handle increasing loads coming to Skagway.
After 10 years of being dormant, the terminal was partially reconstructed in 2007 to a size of 25,000 square feet to get ready for the Minto Mine, which began shipping concentrates in late summer of 2007. The company’s mining body at the Yukon site has since expanded.
“Additional storage space is needed on site to hold the ore to allow for larger loadings on the transportation ships,” Hemsath wrote.
“Mineral Services (H&H) is one of three contractors doing the build out, the other two are CHG Building Systems and Puffin Electric,” he continued. “Construction costs are estimated at $1.6 million.”
The terminal is still only about one-third of its potential size.
Hemsath noted that the Skagway Ore Terminal can expand by approximately 60,000 square feet over time, which is consistent with the recent Skagway Port Development Plan.
AIDEA has a seven-year user agreement with Sherwood Copper / Capstone, but is actively looking for other customers.
Sherwood Copper was recently sold to Capstone Mining Corporation, but has retained its Minto Mine staffing and structure. The mine also recently joined the main Yukon hydropower grid after completion of a summer-long transmission line project to the mine and community of Pelly Crossing. – JB

BOROUGH: Clinic, revaluation contracts modified

The Skagway Borough Assembly met in special session Nov. 24 to take up two significant contract modifications on ongoing projects.
The first request was a change order to the Rasmuson Health Center project to cover the costs of delays due to the initial permitting problems the borough encountered during site preparation.
A stop-work order held up the clearing for about a week while the borough received its final construction permits from the state fire marshal. Contractor Dawson Construction said the order and delay cost it and its subcontractor $71,981.
In a memo to the assembly, Borough Manager Alan Sorum called it a responsible claim that was mostly related to mobilization. He noted that the claim still keeps the project under budget.
The change order also included a request to extend the substantial completion date 25 days to August 25, 2009. As part of the request, the company said it would forgo any further schedule changes due to unforeseen winter weather delays.
The assembly approved the request unanimously.
Members also gave the nod to an additional $40,000 to Horan & Company for the revaluation project. In a letter to the assembly in late October, borough assessor Charles Horan explained that the long process of reviewing properties and then converting the old property cards with new computer mapping technology resulted in more manpower hours than he originally budgeted. The project resulted in $140,000 of billable time on a project that was proposed at $69,000.
Horan was the lone bidder on the project. He said the firm would absorb $49,000 of the loss, but requested an additional $40,000 so he wouldn’t have to mortgage his house in order to pay his firm’s labor to complete the project. Much of the overrun was due to Skagway’s properties not being properly numbered or adequately mapped, so they had to set up a new system for the property cards that was beyond the scope of the contract. Now that they know how much time goes into it, they have learned from their mistakes and are charging other boroughs a higher rate per parcel, he noted.
The Finance Committee was reluctant at first to honor the request, but then were shown some of the new electronic property cards and recommended approval of the request. At the special assembly meeting, members said they were impressed with the product and believe that the mistake resulted from taking on a new program.
Colette Hisman noted that the municipality was not being asked to take the entire financial hit, but wanted to know where the extra $40,000 would come from. Municipal Clerk Marj Harris said $10,000 in the budget for G.I.S. mapping could be applied to the project, since the work done by Horan will be incorporated in the final G.I.S. map of the borough.
At its Dec. 4 meeting, the assembly passed first reading of a budget amendment ordinance to place an additional $30,000 from sales tax funds into the G.I.S. mapping project to cover the “property records component.”
“Basically, it’s in the best interest for us and them,” said Mayor Tom Cochran, urging passage of the ordinance. “We will get a very good product … possibly the first of its kind in the state.”

BOROUGH: Rapuzzi Collection agreement signed

At its Dec. 4 meeting, the assembly unanimously passed an agreement that sets guidelines for transferring a portion of the George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection to the municipality.
The entire collection was purchased by the Rasmuson Foundation in 2007 for $1 million from Rapuzzi descendant Phyllis Brown, with the intent that the buildings and collection be divided between the National Park Service, Municipality of Skagway, and the Alaska Natural History Association.
The municipality contributed $100,000 toward the purchase.
Before the assembly last week was a new Memorandum of Understanding between NPS and the municipality for distribution of personal property associated with the collection. NPS and Skagway museum employees have already begun the inventory of approximately 450,000 items in the collection.
The agreement sets guidelines for determining which items will be transferred to NPS and municipal collections, and which items are undesirable by either party and can be disposed of.
A seven-person Rapuzzi Committee would make the determinations. It will be made up of two employees each from the borough and NPS, and three at-large members jointly selected.
Mayor Tom Cochran said he questioned a couple of items in the MOU related to creating historic easements for properties outside the Historic District and the distribution of proceeds from sales of objects and/or real property by the municipality. The latter item stated that such funds would be considered “restricted” and “will be used exclusively towards the care of the collection and remaining historic properties.”
Theresa Thibault, chief of resources for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, said those two items were part of the original agreement and the restricted use of proceeds was included at the request of the Rasmuson Foundation.
“They wanted to see all proceeds go to the care of the collection,” she said. “You’d be the likely party to sell it. We need to work together.”
Thibault said it had taken six years to get to this point.
“It’s been a long road and the city was always involved in these guidelines,” she said.
The municipality will end up with ownership of the Rapuzzi house and the World War II Commissary building on Second, while the Park Service will get Jeff. Smith’s Parlor and the old Meyers Meat Market. Thibault said the park has money it its budget to stabilize the old market at 5th and State, which Martin Itjen and George Rapuzzi used as a garage.
Cochran said the acceptance of grants is beginning to overload staff, but L.C. Cassidy said this agreement is different, and Thibault said the collection acquisition was not really a grant.
“We don’t see it as a burden,” she said. “Curators are already working…. We are excited to get this part done … and eventually open it up to the public.”– JB


LEGO LOFT – Skagway Envirobotics team members hold their trophies high after winning the First Lego League Tournament in Juneau late last month. See photo report in features below. Photo by Rosemary Klupar

• SHS ACADEMICS: Lego League breakdown; DDF team update; Student active in Polar Bears International

• SHS ACTIVITIES: Volleyball team advances to State; wrestlers wrap season at regionals

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