January 25, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 1
Light of the Morning
Sunlight penetrates the clouds on a January morning, revealing a light dusting of snow on Broadway.
Photo by Andrew Cremata
Back to square one, almost,
for borough manager selection
Next round of applications due in early February
By JEFF BRADY
After the top pick for the next borough manager turned down the municipality’s offer early this week, the manager selection committee met Wednesday and decided to reopen the selection process for another two weeks, in which they will consider new applicants and review the current pool.
Robin M. Bennett of Trenton, Maine was the unanimous choice of a selection committee and the Borough Assembly Jan. 17, following interviews held with three finalists for the position on Jan. 16. But on Monday she declined the position. The assembly had voted to hire Bennett pending further review of her background, but Mayor Stan Selmer said that when offered a contract on Monday, she declined.
“She said (her decision was due to) Skagway’s geographical remoteness combined with her concern about medical and commercial resources lacking in the community,” Selmer said.
The committee then turned to David Richards, the current manager of Fort Yukon. At the instruction of the committee, Police Chief Ray Leggett did background checks on both Bennett and Richards early this week and reported to them, but they decided not to recommend Richards for hire, said committee member Mark Schaefer.
The borough received 30 applications for the manager position and whittled the list down to eight for phone interviews, early this month, and then down to three finalists who were interviewed on Jan. 16: Bennett, a former town manager in Southwest Harbor Maine and Barre, Vermont; Richards, a previous manager of Angels Camp, Calif., Hoonah, and Pahrump, Nev.; and Rick Hohnbaum, a former city manager in Kotzebue, Whittier and Cordova.
The selection committee of Dan Henry, Steve Burnham, and Schaefer scored the candidates following the interviews, which were held in public session.
Bennett was short and to the point with most of her answers regarding her experience, but she asked lots of questions about life in Skagway. Richards and Hohnbaum went more in-depth with their answers, highlighting their Alaska experience, but the committee decided not to recommend either one and now will expand their search to other applicants.
UPDATE: The manager's position has been resposted and applications are due at 4 p.m. on Feb. 5.
Ore Dock repairs unlikely before summer; assembly OK with response, concerned about delays
By KATIE EMMETS
After reviewing the most recent Skagway Ore Dock repair plan from White Pass & Yukon Route’s parent company, Municipality of Skagway officials say all of the nearly 150 necessary repairs would not take place before cruise ship season, however a tentative timeline has been established.
In a January 11 response letter addressed to Skagway Acting Borough Manager Tom Healy, ClubLink Chairman and CEO Rai Sahi addressed the municipality’s concerns regarding a repair plan for the entirety of the Ore Dock.
Sahi wrote that PND, ClubLink’s engineering company, has not been able to do an analysis of the findings in the Moffatt & Nichol Condition Assessment Report of the dock because of PND’s prior commitments with other clients.
“We have asked PND for a date certain by which time they can review and test the Moffatt & Nichol report’s conclusions and prepare a comparable report for the needed repair of the ore dock deficiencies in PND’s professional judgment,” Sahi wrote. “PND’s report would also include a precise schedule and plan for performing the repairs needed.”
Though there are no specific dates at this time, Sahi said PND has given a time estimate for each part of the process, which would include two weeks for a dock inspection, four weeks to prepare plans, three months for the permitting process and three months for material acquisition and construction.
“They estimate 14 calendar days to inspect and analyze the 150-plus identified deficiency items in the Moffatt & Nichol Report,” Sahi wrote on Jan 11. “We have instructed PND to start mobilizing on this step today.”
The PND timeline and additional information from Sahi came as a response to the municipality’s January 7 letter to Sahi, which deemed an earlier repair plan from PND inadequate.
ClubLink and PND were asked by the municipality to come up with a complete plan of repairs to the rest of the ore dock, not including the major area of concern, by January 5. In a December 21 memo forwarded to the municipality from Sahi, PND gave a five- point plan of how it would proceed with additional ore dock repairs:
“1. Complete the critical repairs of the service pier per Rai Sahi’s letter of November 30, 2012. We have not received a permit from the COE (Corps of Engineers) as of today.
2. Perform inspections of the non critical areas of the Ore dock identified by MN in their report during the summer of 2013.
3. Determine repairs and schedule of repairs that are needed based upon our inspections
4. Perform design and submit permit applications as necessary to allow repairs to be accomplished.
5. Move forward with identified repairs in schedule to be defined schedule.”
In response, Healy wrote Sahi that the assembly did not think PND’s memo was an adequate answer to its request.
“PND’s memo provides the barest outline of a plan for repairs but does not include an actual plan for repairs,” Healy wrote. “There may be practical reasons for this, such as your engineering firm having to meet other commitments and being unable to develop a complete repair plan by January 5, 2013. Further explanation would clarify whether this is the case or if there are other reasons you did not provide a complete response.”
Healy wrote that PND’s final step is grammatically incorrect, vague and provides no schedule for repairs.
“The municipality is left to infer a schedule based on PND’s brief outline and PND’s determination of what will be repaired with the result that actual repair work may not begin until the late fall of early winter of 2013-14 at the earliest,” Healy wrote. “This time table is not responsive to the clear need to repair the dock in a timely manner.”
Healy wrote that the municipality’s overriding concern in this matter is the safety of its people, equipment and vessels using the ore terminal.
“Moffatt & Nichol’s Skagway Pre Dock Condition Assessment Report identifies 142 defects in the dock structure,” Healy wrote. “Eighty-five of those defects are rated “severe.” PND’s characterization of much of the dock as “non critical areas” understates the actual condition of the dock and the hazards it presents to dock users.”
Another letter addressing additional safety concerns raised by the Port Commission was sent by Healy to the White Pass offices. Sahi responded on Jan. 11 that action had taken place to secure the area better:
“Please accept our assurances that we will take all necessary steps before repairs are completed to assure the complete safety of persons, equipment and vessels using the ore dock facility,” he wrote. “These will include: cordoning off the north, south and mid approaches to the Ore Dock; posting warning signs to keep people and equipment off the areas that are in question; and sending a notice to Cruise Lines Agency, MOS, Ore Terminal operator, Alaska Marine Lines and Petro Marine notifying them of restrictions and restricted access to the areas that are affected.”
The Skagway Borough Assembly discussed Sahi’s most recent letter in open session Jan. 17.
“It was a reasonable response given the time lines that we’ve established and the reality of when things can get accomplished,” Mayor Selmer said, adding that this is the kind of response the municipality hoped to get initially.
Assemblyman Gary Hanson agreed that the response letter was obviously better than the memo received on December 28, but doesn’t think it addressed the issue of putting people to work on an unsafe dock. Hanson acknowledges that the workers could take down the barricades and put them up after they are done, but it doesn’t change the dock’s poor condition.
When he worked at the ferry terminal, Hanson said, he could have been pulled into the water if the dock was rickety or in poor condition like the ore dock is in.
Selmer said the entirety of the Ore Dock repair issues can’t be solved between now and cruise ship season, and suggested that Cruise Line Agencies and White Pass may have to put ships at a safer area on the dock. He said the municipality plans to send a response to Sahi later this month addressing what will come next.
Selmer said there is a possibility he will meet Sahi in Florida in February to discuss dock issues and site control.
At the Jan. 17 meeting, the assembly gave him permission to make the trip.
AIDEA looks ahead to more mines; dock resolution important
By JEFF BRADY
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority sees a resolution to the dock issue and a new lease as important components for moving forward to expand its ore terminal for new Yukon mines that want to use the port of Skagway.
AIDEA and Municipality of Skagway representatives have begun preliminary meetings leading to negotiating a new lease for the ore terminal after the current lease expires in 2023. On Jan. 17, AIDEA executive director Ted Leonard and deputy director James Hemsath met with the entire Skagway Borough Assembly to discuss its future plans and concerns.
Leonard said the agency operates under a guiding principal from its board that it will work on projects that have the full support of the community. As they enter the second phase of expanding the terminal for future users – with permission from the legislature to bond up to $65 million in improvements – it will continue to monitor the dock issue and work toward a new lease.
Hemsath said the current user, Capstone, wants a lease extension for another 10 years to 2023, and there are four other mines that have requests to the agency for costing details about leasing space in the terminal. The first could be Eagle with magnetite from the old Whitehorse Copper mine tailings as soon as late summer. Then there could be lead-zinc ore from Chieftain (old Tulsequah mine near Atlin) in 2015, nickel from the Wellgreen mine near Burwash Landing in 2017, and Western Copper’s Casino mine in 2019. He said there was previous interest from Selwyn-Chihong for its prospect in eastern Yukon but that they have “dropped off the radar.”
With this much potential interest for using the terminal starting in the next few years, the agency is preparing a “stacking plan” on how to utilize the facility with multi-users, Hemsath added, building out the ore storage shed with an objective of minimizing square footage. While the current ship loader is usable now, their expansion plans would assume replacing it so it would be more mobile and not interfere with cruise ships using the dock. He said the plan is nearing completion and will be made available to the municipality.
A new lease is important as a guarantee for both bonding the project and users, he noted. “We need to get the post-2023 done as soon as possible.”
When asked about the dock issue, both in terms of its current state of disrepair and future ownership as it relates to AIDEA moving forward, Hemsath replied: “It does matter and it is important.”
He said the dock needs to be in a “safe, workable, operating condition, “where it can be used to get equipment on and off a ship. He added that the Gateway Project concept – with an expanded dock and uplands – should go forward so the facility can handle multiple ships in the area.
Leonard added, “As mining companies do their due diligence, the dock is a critical aspect.”
Looking ahead to next summer, there will be challenges when Eagle comes on board. It was suggested that maybe the concentrate could be shipped in “super sacks” stored off-site until the terminal is expanded.
Terminal operator Dave Hunz of Mineral Services said they recently installed a new unloading system for trucks that is safer and speeds up the operation. He said the concentrate needs to be covered, and that the movement of super sacks between an off-site location and the terminal would reach a cost breaking point at 15,000 tons. Eagle is expecting to ship 350,000 tons.
Eagle expects to ship for five-to-eight years, which would fall under AIDEA’s current sublease with White Pass, but Hemsath noted that expansion of the terminal is for the long-term, even though it is needed now.
“You can’t handle Capstone and Eagle in the current facility,” Hemsath said.
The municipality wants a deal in place for the foreseeable future that would carry on past 2023, the year the tidelands lease with White Pass expires.
Commenting on the negotiations afterwards, Assemblyman Dan Henry said they are at a point where the two sides are preparing details to include in a new lease, and “real negotiations” will then proceed and draft leases presented for attorney review.
• SCHOOL FEATURE: Skagway robotics team champs of Alaska
BRING ON THE WORLDS – Members of Team Arthridroids from Skagway pose with their funny hats and champions trophy at the Anchorage Robot Rendezvous. Courtesy of Arlene Efergan
250K limit on leases debated
Mayor Stan Selmer has asked the assembly to consider repealing a 1990 ordinance that would require a vote of the people for leases that exceed $250,000 in value over the term, saying it has not been implemented. But rather than eliminate the voter approval totally, some members would rather raise the value so the election requirement can still be used for larger value properties like the White Pass or AIDEA leases.
The ordinance will be brought forward at the Feb. 7 assembly meeting, and may require three readings. Members opened the discussion with a look at a draft ordinance at its Jan. 17 meeting.
“My desire is to have (voter approval) removed,” Selmer said, adding that waterfront restaurant and RV park leases over time could exceed the $250,000 limit, as do some subleases in the current White Pass lease.
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer agreed, saying all leases must come before the assembly and occur through a public process.
But member Gary Hanson said the $250,000 limit was put in after people viewed the 1968 tidelands lease to White Pass as a giveaway. He suggested raising the limit and keeping voter approval for larger leases.
“If it’s a good lease, it should stand the scrutiny of a public vote,” Hanson said.
Other members said they saw both sides of the issue and want to hear from citizens.
Selmer asked acting manager Tom Healy to bring the ordinance forward at the next meeting, and told Hanson he could amend it at that time.
Because the ordinance also would involve a change in election code, it would have to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice. – JB
Better alert system ahead
Following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that shook SE Alaska on Jan. 5 and resulted in tsunami alerts for Panhandle communities, the Skagway Police Dept. is looking into better ways to notify residents on short notice.
While the threat of a major tsunami was low, it was real and some communities like Sitka and Petersburg alerted residents and got them to shelters and higher ground.
Not so in Skagway, but that could change. Police Chief Ray Leggett told the Skagway Borough Assembly last week that a new database called Nixle, which is available to police departments, could have residents sign up for text alerts and phone calls in the event of a major emergency.
“It costs a whopping nothing,” Leggett said, adding that it also could be used for non-emergency uses such as notifying businesses to be on the lookout for a lost person downtown in the summertime.
He said signing up for Nixle is voluntary, and a link will be provided on the SPD website for people to check it out.
Public Safety chair Gary Hanson said the Local Emergency Planning Commission will continue to work on a community plan for the next tsunami alert. – JB
Firewood gathering top issue in West Creek discussions
By ANDREW CREMATA
The future of the West Creek area is beginning to take shape. As the official date nears when the Municipality of Skagway is officially transferred ownership of entitlement lands from the State of Alaska, a plan for the large area just west of Dyea is steadily moving forward.
Barb Sheinberg, of Sheinberg Associates in Juneau, met with interested locals on Jan. 19 in an effort to ask and answer questions about the future of West Creek, its potential uses, and discuss whether the land should be considered for industrial development.
Sheinberg, who has been working on Skagway land planning projects since 1989, said the entire process was relatively straightforward, and would eventually be adopted into the Skagway Comprehensive Plan. She urged attendees to consider how any decisions made today would affect the future of West Creek, and what level of management was desired by users.
Sheinberg explained there was already a considerable amount of input from residents concerning how they would like to see the area develop, and what uses they considered the highest priority.
She said that the overwhelming majority of users believe the area is “pretty much in balance,” primarily being used for recreational purposes such as snowmachining, skiing, four-wheeling, and hiking.
However, one area of concern voiced by many users dealt with the collection of firewood. She added that this was the only issue for which a majority of residents thought increased management was a good idea.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Matt Deach said that the State of Alaska was required by law to provide harvestable firewood from state land, and that it would be worthwhile to look further into the details when the land transfer is finalized.
Deach added that certain areas within municipal West Creek land could be marked for firewood harvest in an effort to open up certain areas for more recreation, such as hiking trails and camping.
The issue of responsible firewood harvesting was discussed, and how it relates to management of the resource. Assemblyman Paul Reichert said enforcement would be “impossible,” as the municipality wouldn’t be able to devote manpower to patrolling the area.
Luke Rauscher, who frequently utilizes West Creek for hunting and firewood gathering, said that the area was currently prospering and that instead of regulations the municipality should just offer guidelines for responsible firewood harvesting.
Rauscher added that if someone were being irresponsible in West Creek by cutting large trees or too many in one area, then they would face repercussions from other users.
Rauscher suggested the municipality inquire from the Forest Service about what amount of firewood harvest is considered sustainable in a given area.
“(The Municipality) should come up with a system before putting restrictions on wood cutters,” he said.
Everyone at the table agreed that determining a quantifiable amount of wood to harvest was a good first step toward addressing people’s concerns of overharvesting.
The issue of commercial use was also discussed at some length. Sheinberg indicated that most responses from residents have urged to keep West Creek entirely non-commercial.
Jeff Brady, who owns property and four cabins on lower West Creek, said that he was hopeful that his family could create a non-profit writers and artists’ retreat on his real estate, but it would be for summer only and would not be a commercial enterprise.
Brady added that most people he talked to said that they were against commercial development and tours up West Creek.
“This area… it’s more for locals to get away from all of that,” he said.
Reichert agreed by saying that the overwhelming consensus has been to keep the area non-commercial. He likened West Creek to Dyea, which has had a moratorium on new tours for some time.
Sheinberg said that “100 percent” of the people she had spoken with agreed that the area should be kept non-commercial.
Deach said he would approve of limited commercial use as a way to pay for improvements.
“We’re already Disneyland,” said Deach. “I want to capitalize on every tourist dollar we can get, quite honestly.”
There was some concern voiced over whether West Creek would see more traffic when trails and other areas were cleared to increase accessibility.
Rauscher suggested keeping the information off of public trail maps.
Brady agreed and said to move forward with improvements but, “don’t advertise them.”
Some other improvements discussed included an improved trail to Lost Lake from the JM Frey footbridge, extending a multi-use trail from the end of West Creek Road up the valley, construction of public use cabins, and picnic/camping areas.
The possibility of building a hydro project in West Creek was briefly discussed. Sheinberg said that the issue was “not going anywhere right now,” mostly because the municipality ranked low on a priority list for a state grant that would have funded a hydro feasibility study for the West Creek area.
However, Sheinberg said that the municipality could decide to fund a study in the future.
The proposed dam for the hydro plant would be just beyond the end of the primitive roadway, and would stretch 1,400 feet, or one quarter mile, across. The lake created by the dam would between two or three miles long, considerably altering the current landscape.
Further refining of the West Creek plan will be accomplished via a survey, which will be made available to the public in February. There is also a summer “field trip” planned to get a more in-depth understanding of specific areas and how they might best be utilized.
UPDATE: Sheinberg Associates has set up a West Creek Master Plan webpage with a link to the survey which can be filled out until Feb. 28, 2013.
Rec. Center master plan in the works
By KATIE EMMETS
A master plan for the Skagway Recreation Center is being developed after Skagway residents weighed in on what they wanted to see.
Katherine Nelson, SRC director, said the idea of renovating came about a while ago.
“The basis of the plan was developed and evolved after it was decided we would not be installing a pool,” she said. “Then I began a series of long term planning meetings with my advisory board.”
Nelson said the reason for the renovations came from several issues that need improvement.
The outdoor field experiences high use in Skagway’s warmer months, and because it is uneven and has rocks, the center sees a lot of injuries from people who are playing sports on the field.
Nelson said there is also a need for a barrier between the field and State Street that she envisioned to be trees or other landscaping.
The paved fenced-in area next to the parking lot that’s used for basketball and ice skating also needs some work.
“The basketball courts need to be updated with lines painted, and the ice rink is rarely used due to inclement weather conditions,” she said. “Also tennis courts were put on hold due to the flooding the ice rink experiences in warmer months.
Another problem, Nelson said, was the parking situation.
“We have major parking issues with the current layout being highly unsafe with all of our pedestrian traffic and poor handicapped accessibility,” she said.
To try and make these situations better, Nelson attempted to secure funding to begin renovations.
“Several years ago I went about getting quotes from several landscape engineering companies and was blown away my the amount of money they wanted to plan a lawn,” she said.
Nelson still asked the Skagway Borough Assembly for money for the project on behalf of the SRC, but the request was denied because the rec. center already had several projects in the works including a skate park, an arctic entry, repair of the south wall, a front entrance remodel, an exterior siding project, and a new floor installation.
In 2012, when she was thinking about putting in another request for funding for the renovations, she was recommended to landscape architect Chris Mertl of Corvus Design in Juneau. Mertl was already working on a few projects for the municipality, and he suggested coming up with a master plan for the rec. center.
After presenting the idea for a master plan to the assembly, money for the project was put in the FY13 budget and Corvus Design was hired.
“In an effort to ensure we were on the right track, we held a public meeting in November to get feedback from the community on what they wanted to see, and then Chris developed three conceptual plans,” she said.
Mertl presented the plans at a meeting this month.
School sees input on goals at workshop
The Skagway School Board received input last week on developing a list of achievable goals that can be incorporated into a school improvement plan.
During a workshop attended by about 20 parents, students and teachers on Jan. 16, Superintendent Jeff Thielbar and board members set about creating a list of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound) goals.
It didn’t take long for those present to fill up a whiteboard with suggested goals, but it took a while to find agreement on three that were deemed achievable at this time:
• Improved communication by reaching out with all the technology available to not only the school community but to people who are not involved in the school.
• Vocational education including hands-on trades instruction, on the job training (OJT), and technology (computer science).
• College preparation by maintaining a rich and rigorous curriculum and including a service component and preparing students to become good citizens.
A common goal expressed was to be able to retain students in Skagway through their high school years.
Those present were pleased to hear there will be a science teacher hired for the next school year after a one-year absence. Student Rosalie Westfall said the student council recently polled students who listed the science teacher as a top priority followed by wood shop and home economics.
There also was interest in returning to a full-time music-drama program, having more healthy options at lunch, and making sure teachers have professional development opportunities.
“These all will be addressed in our vision for the school,” said board President Stuart Brown.
There was a lot of support for the current faculty.
“Our teachers are good at identifying the best students and pushing them,” said board member Darren Belisle.
“The teachers work at it, trying to keep our faces shiny and happy for all those little ones,” added kindergarten teacher Denise Caposey.
The board will continue to work on the list at a work session on Feb. 6. – JB