March 29, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 5
Bright Buckwheat Beginning
The 25K racers start their long journey to the Buckwheat Ski Classic finish line during the 27th annual race on March 23. See BSC 2013 Report and Results links below.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Assembly raises waterfront lease amount vote trigger in ordinance
Selmer votes to break a tie, ordinance to go to a third reading in April
By KATIE EMMETS
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer voted to break a tie that sent an ordinance, which would raise the municipal land lease amount vote trigger and exempt state agencies from a public vote, to a third reading.
If the ordinance passes its third reading as is, the lease amount vote trigger would be $5 million and state agencies, such as Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, would be exempt.
Before amendments were made during a March 21 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Ordinance No. 13-05 aimed to repeal the referral to voters.
As Skagway Municipal Code Section 16.02.025 is written, any municipal lease on municipal property that totals more than $250,000 during the life of the lease would require a public vote. Most businesses on the west side of the waterfront are subleased from White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, and no votes have been needed. But if the code stays the same, with a $250,000 lease triggering a vote, when White Pass’s lease is up in 2023, subletters TEMSCO Helicopters Inc., Petro Marine and Alaska Marine Lines would be affected. The Pullen Creek RV Park, Harbor House and Skagway Fish Company leases on city property on the east side of the waterfront also would need a public vote.
“It was interesting to consider that some of those leases in 2023, when the land reverts back to the municipality, would have to be voted on if the amount was $250,000,” said Assemblyman Gary Hanson. “I believe an amount in the neighborhood of $5 million would protect us from voting on every small lease that came along but would protect the right of the citizens to vote on the larger leases.”
Hanson said he came up with a $5 million figure after Port Commission member Dave Hunz said the highest waterfront lease is Alaska Marine Lines’ at about $100,000 per year.
When the municipality takes back the waterfront property in 2023, Hanson said, with three percent inflation the lease would jump up to about $150,000.
“If we went 20 years with AML it would be at $3 million,” he said. “I was trying to get a figure where the highest current lease down there would not have to be voted on.”
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer said he agrees with repealing the public vote.
“One of the reasons we considered it is because we need to get something done with AIDEA and we need to do it fairly soon,” Schaefer said.
The AIDEA waterfront lease would need to be brought before voters by next year in order to get Gateway Plans solidified. The municipality must spend the $10 million it received in state funds for the project before June 30, 2016.
“We’ve got a limited amount of time to spend the money we have,” he said. “I’m starting to have my doubts that we’ll be able to accomplish anything with port development, even though that’s what the community asked for.”
Assemblyman Dan Henry said he also supported repealing the vote and thinks the decision of municipal leases should be up to the assembly.
Henry also said that Sitka is the only other Southeast Alaska export town that has a public vote on waterfront leases, but it exempts state agencies.
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said he leans towards setting a higher number to trigger a public vote, but he also agrees with exempting AIDEA.
“I thought that was a valid idea we could put into this,” he said. “I would support looking at exempting state agencies.”
Reichert said most of the concern he’s heard from the public stems from not being able to weigh in on a long-term waterfront leases, much like the current 55-year White Pass tidelands lease.
Henry said he understands the ordinance is trying to isolate White Pass on waterfront holdings, and he understands the community wants a say in whether or not another tidelands lease is granted.
But Henry said there isn’t going to be another tidelands lease.
“If were taking back the property in 2023, what do we care,” he said. “Who cares? We’re never going to vote on it because were goanna take the land back – it’s moot.”
Mayor Stan Selmer said he is happy to hear the assembly’s interest in exempting state agencies from a public vote.
“I’m hearing that you want to exempt AIDEA,” he said. “I think that’s a great move — I think that has to happen.”
Selmer said if assembly members didn’t want to exempt AIDEA and wanted the people to vote on waterfront leases, they would have mentioned the public vote to Alaska Governor Sean Parnell when he was in Skagway in 2011 authorizing AIDEA to bond up to $65 million toward expanding the Skagway Ore Terminal in a bid to attract Yukon mining companies.
“In May, Haines is coming over here to look at our ore terminal and they’re bringing AIDEA with them,” Selmer said, adding that the Haines Borough has shown interest in building its own ore terminal.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said he didn’t agree with an AIDEA exemption.
“I don’t agree that we should be exempting any particular company or state entity from a public vote that’s required in (code),” he said.
Hanson also agreed that there should be no exemptions.
“The reason is: any state agency, not just AIDEA, is another party that we’re leasing to, and they should be treated as such,” Hanson said.
Selmer said he recommends the assembly amend the ordinance to increase lease amount vote trigger, add an exemption for state entities and bring the ordinance back for a third reading.
“We pass this now with the understanding at the table that it’s going to take a third reading to adopt this,” he said.
An amendment, which exempts state agencies from a public vote and changes the trigger number for a public vote to $5 million was passed with a 4-2 vote. Hanson and Burnham voted no.
The assembly then voted on the main motion, which was the passing of the ordinance’s second reading.
Hanson, Burnham and Henry voted no, Reichert, Korsmo and Schaefer voted yes and Selmer voted yes to break the tie with a 4-3 vote.
The ordinance will be brought to the table during an April 4 meeting for a third reading.
Edes takes borough manager job, starts April 1
By KATIE EMMETS
George Edes has accepted the borough manager position and will arrive in Skagway March 31.
Edes comes to Skagway with more than five years of city manager experience, including serving one year in Wrangell.
In order to facilitate a quick and efficient passing of the baton to Edes, interim manager Tom Healy will stay in Skagway through the first week of April to catch Edes up on important Skagway matters and answer any questions he might have.
Healy’s temporary management contact was designated to end on March 31 but was extended during a March 21 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting. He has been here since November 1.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to be here with you all this winter,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed myself.”
Healy said he is pleased Edes is able to get to Skagway as fast as he is, because it allows for somewhat of a smooth transition between managers.
Edes’s contract is good for two years starting April 1 and ending March 31, 2015. He will be bound exclusively to the municipality and will receive a $110,000 salary per year with five weeks vacation and two weeks sick leave.
The municipality will provide Edes’s travel and moving costs from Pismo Beach, Calif. and will also provide Edes’s housing his first year in Skagway.
Edes will be sworn in the first week of April.
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer is excited about having Edes as manager, he said, because Edes has an enthusiasm about coming to Skagway that far surpasses any of the manager candidates the assembly has seen this year.
“His enthusiasm coupled with his experience will make him a great fit for the community of Skagway,” Selmer said.
Rain shines in rescue of attacked great horned owl
Owl continues to get better at raptor rescue center, will be released in Sitka
By KATIE EMMETS
Though she’s seen the beauty surrounding the drive from her home in Dyea to the neighboring town of Skagway, she had never seen a sight quite like this.
On the morning of March 17, Kari Rain was coming up to Long Bay beach when a Bald Eagle swooped in front of her Jeep with a Great Horned Owl hanging from its mouth.
A second eagle came and all three of the birds tussled on the ground.
Rain parked her car and went to the beach to see what happened. When she got there, she noticed the eagles had flown away, but two ravens took their places and were pecking at the owl.
After shooing the ravens away, Rain drove down the road till she got cell phone reception and called Skagway Police Department officials, who contacted the Skagway Bird Rescue Group.
When Rain got back to the beach, she noticed the owl was still alive.
“It had one bright-yellow eye open and it was visibly shaking,” she said. “And there was a gash in its left wing.”
Seeing the owl alive and in trouble made her want to help, but because she’s never been in this situation before, so she didn’t know what to do.
Rain decided that talking to the owl might help it feel comforted.
She said things like “It seems like a really tough day you’ve had already,” and “It’s going to be ok — well maybe it’s not going to be ok, but you’re not going to be pecked to death.”
An avid photographer, Rain took pictures of the owl lying on the beach, but feeling particularly sensitive to her new friend’s feelings, she continually apologized while snapping away.
“I told it I wouldn’t let anything else hurt it,” she said.
Nola Lamken, a member of the Skagway rescue group, showed up a half hour later and used blankets to wrap the stunned owl up like a burrito. They placed it in a box, and Rain drove it to fellow members Andrew and Joanne Beierlys’s house.
“I could not believe I had a great horned owl in my car,” she said.
When they got it to town and out of the box, Rain and Lamken had to hold it up and support it while Joanne Beierly called the Juneau Raptor Center to inform of the injured bird.
The center told Beierly the owl sounded like a good candidate and asked that they ready it for flight by wrapping it and putting it in a cage.
The owl was once again wrapped like a burrito and placed on its stomach in the cage. The women didn’t worry about putting the lid on because the bird had not moved once since Rain spotted it lying on the beach. But while lying in the cage, the bird came out of shock and flew around the room in an attempt to escape.
Beierly was able to get the owl, put it back inside the cage and bring it to Wings of Alaska for a flight to Juneau.
The owl stayed in Juneau over night and was then sent to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka.
Two days after the rescue, avian rehab coordinator Jen Cedarleaf said the owl was a young male born last year. His biggest problem was not that eagles attacked him, but he was malnourished and had a fever.
“He is emaciated,” she said. “And his temperature is 101.9 with heat.”
Cedarleaf said a normal temperature for a great horned owl is between 103-106 degrees, and until he reached 103 degrees, he would be fed fluids with a formula for carnivorous birds.
As of Wednesday, when this issue went to print, the owl’s temperature was above 103 degrees, and he was eating mice and rats.
“He is doing well,” Cedarleaf said. “We moved him out of ICU into a bigger flight cage, and we are working on getting him to gain weight.”
Cedarleaf said his release is dependent upon weight gain and the healing of his left wing.
“By the time he has gained enough weight to be released, his wing should be healed,” she said.
Cedarleaf said they would release him in Sitka.
Two days after the rescue, Rain was still shocked about the timing of the incident.
“If I would have left for work earlier, I wouldn’t have seen it,” she said. “And if I would have driven by five seconds later, I would have missed it.”
Rain said it was an awesome and terrifying sight to see an eagle with an owl in its mouth.
“I know some people will say I stepped in the way of nature and everything,” she said. “Well — I did. But I couldn’t sit there and let it be pecked to death by the ravens. If it was going to die, it was going to die in a calm respectful way.”
Rain said this experience made her want to get proper bird rescue training.
“I would have known what to do right then and there if I had the training,” she said. “Because no one in Skagway is trained, we couldn’t hydrate it or do anything like that.”
But even if she didn’t know what to do, she knew what she had to do.
“Once I looked into its eyes — that was it,” she said. “I was going to do everything in my power to save it.”
And she did.
Kari Rain smiles after making sure the injured great horned owl is secure in the box before driving it to Skagway from Nahku Bay. Photo by Nola Lamken
BUCKWHEAT SKI CLASSIC 2013: Record year for the Buckwheat Ski Classic; pirate theme seizes participants • Results (now official)
Historic District Commission to take appeals to assembly
An ordinance that would allow for the Skagway Historic District Commission to bring appeals straight to the Skagway Borough Assembly passed its first reading unanimously.
If adopted, Skagway code will no longer require the HDC to bring appeals before the Skagway Planning and Zoning Commission before bringing them to the assembly.
According to Ordinance No. 13-08, the municipality wanted to streamline the appeals process by allowing for appeals of the HDC decisions to go directly to the assembly sitting as the Board of Appeals.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr., who used to serve on Planning and Zoning, said he definitely supports this change.
“ I think it slows the process down to go through Planning and Zoning and then if an appeal is needed to go to assembly,” he said.
Mayor Stan Selmer said he is the one who’s advocating this change, adding that this would assist HDC though rulings without having to go through another layer of review.
Selmer said under current code, HDC, which is a commission, was subordinate to Planning and Zoning, which is also a commission.
“It made more sense to have this be a one stop shop,” he said. “You appeal something to HDC, you take it to the assembly just like you do with planning and zoning, you appeal something to the assembly.”
Selmer said he has been working with HDC members for a year and a half in an effort to find something that would give them more support from the assembly.
Right now, there are two members who are considering giving their resignation, Selmer said, and passing this ordinance might stop them from doing so.
The first reading passed with a 6-0 vote.
Old clinic lots designated for senior citizens
The Skagway Borough Assembly unanimously passed a resolution, which declared the old Dahl Memorial Clinic site as the location for a future Skagway senior citizen’s center.
Located on 11th Avenue and Broadway Street, municipal lots 10,11 and 12 have been unused since the opening of the Edward A. & Jenny Rasmusson Community Health Center in 2009.
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer said the site would eventually become a senior citizen’s center and potentially an assisted living facility.
Tests are being run on the lots’ existing building for traces of asbestos and lead.
Selmer announced the creation of a Senior Citizens Ad Hoc Committee earlier in the month.
The committee chair is Michael Baish and members are Ginny Cochran, Barb Brodersen, John Jackson and Carl Mulvihill. Betsy Albecker was named as an alternate.
A condition the committee brought to the assembly when discussing the need for this site for its center was that no trees be cut down in the process of the construction.
“Though assembly members couldn’t guarantee it, they said they’d be willing to do anything in their power to allow for no tree removal,” Selmer said. — KE
Skagway School Board talks budget, considers cutting lunch program
The Skagway School Board publically presented its proposed $2,553,996 budget for the 2013-2014 school year in a March 26 workshop.
Of the budget total, $945,794 would come from State of Alaska funding and $1,608,202 would come from the Municipality of Skagway.
With a projected enrollment of 68 students, five more than this year’s 63 students, the Skagway School will be asking for $1,113,689 from the municipality for its 2013-2014 operating budget and $494,513 for funding music, activities, food service and pre-school programs, which fall outside the cap.
Upon school board and the assembly budget approval, Skagway School will have 10 certified teachers for 2013-2014. As the document states, there will be four elementary teachers, one junior high teacher, four high school teachers and one kindergarten-12th grade special education aide. There will also be a .75-time K-12 aide, a .75-time special education aide and a .75-time extreme needs aide.
Skagway School Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said the pre-school teacher would teach pre-school for the first half of the day and the second half would be spent aiding the kindergarten/first grade to help with the increasing class size. This teacher would also help upper-level students as a guidance councilor.
In a meeting earlier this month, school board member Andy Miller suggested the school do away with its food services program, which cost the school $58,598 this year, and put the money toward hiring a full-time music teacher.
The food services program began in 2001 and was nonexistent in the school before then.
In case the school board decides to implement this switch, it created a second proposed budget option. This option would require asking the municipality for $22,598 more in outside the cap funding.
“In short, for an increase of $22,598 and a loss of the food service program, we could hire a full-time certified music teacher,” Thielbar wrote in the notes on the proposed music budget and added that a full-time certified teacher’s salary is more than $60,000 per year.
This year, Skagway School had nine students that were part of a free or reduced lunch program.
In the meeting, Thielbar assured parents and board members that no child would go hungry if the lunch program was done away with, and he said there would always be sandwich-making items in the kitchen.
School board member John Hischer said he thinks all children should get fed without the stigma of getting free food.
“The kids will pick up on that,” he said, adding that students will be able to spot the nine students on the free or reduced lunch plan quickly.
Hischer also added that he would like to see other programs, such as technology and foreign language, funded before a full-time music teacher.
Board members and parents agreed that the lunch program has greatly improved this year with the hire of the current food service employee.
Shauna Thomas, parent of two students, said the food isn’t always as healthy as the meals she would make for her family but agrees there has been a significant increase in the quality of the food.
“Kalie came home on the first day of school and said ‘Mom, you’re going to love this: they aren’t serving fake cheese anymore!’ “ Thomas said with a laugh.
Board President Stuart Brown said he was the one who championed the reduction in food services program funding from $108,200 in FY12 to the $58,598 figure for this year. Brown said that even with the more than $50,000 reduction, this year’s lunch is the healthiest he’s seen.
In years past, he said, the food services employee would just heat up frozen food, but this year, it is being cooked.
Thielbar mentioned that the school received a grant from the State of Alaska for $20,000 to be used to purchase food grown, caught or raised in Alaska. It was not used this year because food distributors ran out by the time Skagway School received funding, but it will be used next year, Thielbar said.
Board members agreed they would like to see it used to buy fresh Alaska seafood for next year’s lunches.
School board member Cara Cosgrove mentioned that there are already-employed teachers who play music, so there could be potential for a full-time music program without hiring a full-time music teacher if there is interest from the students.
The school board continued budget discussion at the staff/board workshop and again at the regular board meeting Thursday, both of which happened after this issue went to print. — KE