April 12, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 6
Skagway Police Officer Ken Cox and Alaska State Department of Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher carry the Choose Respect banner with about 100 Skagway community members following their lead during a state-wide event to raise awareness for domestic violence on March 28.
Photo by Andrew Cremata
Assembly passes ordinance that raises public vote amount, exempts state agencies
By KATIE EMMETS
With a 4-2 vote, the Skagway Borough Assembly passed an ordinance that changed the voter requirement for city leases from $250,000 to $5 million over the life of the lease and exempted state agencies from a public vote.
Before the ordinance was created, leases of municipal property with a value greater than $250,000 were subject to a public vote.
When first brought to the table on February 8, the ordinance intended to take a public vote on municipal leases out of code completely.
After several assembly meetings and a Committee of the Whole meeting between assembly members and the Skagway Port Commission, the original $250,000 lease trigger was raised to $5 million in order to exempt already operating waterfront businesses from a public vote when the large White Pass and Yukon Route tidelands lease ends in 2023.
Skagway resident Carl Mulvihill, the last surviving member of the 1968 city council that approved the 55-year WP&YR lease, supported the ordinance’s original language, which repealed a public vote on all land leases.
“I strongly believe our voters need to vote on any kind of bond issue, or other issue that could possibly result in money coming out of their pocketbook,” he said. “But this is different. A lease is a business decision and one of the reasons we vote you folks into office – to make decisions on behalf of us.”
Mulvihill said his biggest concern with having a public vote on waterfront leases is that it could discourage companies from using Skagway’s transportation corridor to ship their product.
“We need to encourage any potential traffic that we can and thus help develop a better year round economy,” he said.
Skagway Port Commission Chair John Tronrud addressed the assembly and said he thinks the changes are appropriate.
“The city has seven or eight leases on the waterfront property, and unless this ordinance is changed, every one of those leases will come up to a vote over the next three or four years,” he said. “And it just seems like an unnecessary thing on some of these smaller leases.”
Tronrud said he understands the want for public involvement on municipal leases, and he thinks the ordinance changes would allow for that involvement on larger leases without hindering business interest in waterfront property.
“I don’t think the amounts or the requirements are going to chase anyone away that is seriously looking to use Skagway’s waterfront,” he said. “And I think that’s the opinion of the whole port commission.”
Assemblyman Gary Hanson, who was against the original ordinance, said he would vote against the amended ordinance because he doesn’t think state agencies should be exempt.
“I think there was a misconception by some at the last meeting that by putting state (agencies) in it was OK because we’re not really against having the assembly decide leases for (Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority), but it would keep White Pass out of the picture,” he said.
Hanson said he didn’t agree with that and he thought it was wrong.
“I agree with the $5 million value, and I’m willing to vote for that, but I think the people of Skagway have the right to vote on all of the larger leases,” he said.
Assemblyman Steven Burnham Jr. suggested in an earlier assembly meeting that he wouldn’t support changing the public vote unless the public voted for it themselves.
“I don’t think it’s proper for us to remove the vote of the people without the people agreeing with that and having the option to vote,” Burnham said.
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer said the $250,000 value that triggers a vote was not put into code by voters, but by the assembly in 1990 when Curragh Resources and AIDEA wanted to construct a second ore terminal in the vicinity of Pullen Park and the staging area.
Selmer said he thinks the biggest mistake was not repealing the public vote after the fear of the second ore terminal went away.
But Burnham said he thinks the 1990 assembly gave the impression to the public that it would allow the Skagway residents to vote on instances such as taking their vote away.
“By taking away their right to vote on this we are saying ‘no, we’re just going to take it back,’ and its not proper to take someone’s voting right away,” he said.
Burnham made a motion to amend the ordinance to read: “This ordinance shall be effective upon voter ratification and preclearance by the (federal) Department of Justice.”
The amendment failed with a 2-4 vote with Hanson and Burnham voting in favor of the amendment.
Without any more discussion, the assembly voted on the main motion, and with a 4-2 vote, the third reading of the ordinance passed. Members Mark Schaefer, Dan Henry, Mike Korsmo, and Paul Reichert voted in support of the ordinance, while Hanson and Burnham stuck with their no votes.
Solid waste, recycling plan approved
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway Borough Assembly on April 4 unanimously adopted a solid waste and recycling management plan that will eventually create a recycling center, a compost center and a solid waste transfer facility while planning for the eventual closure of the incinerator.
SCS Engineers, the company contracted to consult on Skagway’s solid waste program, determined that recycling, composting and shipping garbage out of Skagway by water would be cheaper than burning garbage in the incinerator.
According to the resolution, SCS Engineers determined that the municipality pays an average of $474.07 per ton of garbage burned in the incinerator where the cost to ship garbage out would be $158 per ton.
“(Recycling) will probably pay for itself,” said Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr., liaison to Skagway’s ad hoc Recycling Committee. “The incinerator is what’s losing us money, so just recycling and composting doesn’t help us if we don’t cease using the incinerator or cutting back on the burns.”
Even though the plan suggests regular usage of the incinerator be stopped by 2014, Mayor Stan Selmer asked Burnham if he would consider waiting until 2015, as the mayor would like to look at the logistics for turning it into a biomass generator.
“White Pass currently has a large stack of ties that isn’t the kind that has to be shipped out,” Selmer said, adding that the heat generated from burning the ties would enough to produce electricity for the burn and also provide power back to the grid.
Also included in the resolution were a set of goals which are: submitting a request for proposals to initiate negotiations with a solid waste/recyclables service provider for the transport and processing of recyclable and solid waste not recycled or composted, recycling 50 percent of the waste produced within the municipality by the end of 2015 and composting 50 percent of organic waste produced within the municipality by the end of 2016.
Rescued owl still healing
By KATIE EMMETS
An injured great horned owl rescued on the beach of Nahku Bay last month is continuing to get better in Sitka’s Alaska Raptor Center.
Avian rehab coordinator Jen Cedarleaf said the owl is getting a lot stronger but he still hasn’t attempted to fly yet.
“Until he flies, we won’t be releasing him,” she said.
Four days after the owl arrived at the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka, the center took a video of him eating solid foods while sitting in an employee’s lap and posted it to its Facebook page and on YouTube.
Also on Alaska Raptor Center’s Facebook page is a naming contest for the owl, and there have been about 150 suggestions so far. Names include Phoenix, Archimedes, Owliver, Owlex and Bob Ross because his ruffled feathers reminded one voter of painter Bob Ross’ hair.
Today is the last day to cast a vote for the name.
After tonight, center staff will narrow down the names, and Facebook fans will choose the winner from top choices. The winner will receive an Alaska Raptor Center T-shirt.
Dyea resident Kari Rain saved the owl on March 17.
While rounding the Nahku Bay bend on the Dyea Road, Rain saw a bald eagle swoop in front of her Jeep with a great horned owl in its talon. A second eagle joined the fray, and all three of the birds tussled on the beach. 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 place and were pecking at the owl.
Rain said she would name the owl Nahku because she found him on the Nahku Bay beach.
“To me that seemed most appropriate,” Rain said. “And he looks like a Nahku.”
A previous Skagway News story about the owl rescue included Rain taking photos of the owl while it was lying on the beach. Though a professional photographer, Rain said she wanted to clarify that she will not be selling or profiting in any way from the photos she took of the owl while it was on the beach and added that the photos are for J3
After finding the owl, Rain called the Skagway Police Department who got in touch with members of the Skagway Bird Rescue Group, a subgroup of the Skagway Bird Club.
The members of the Skagway Bird Rescue Group have experience with wild birds and will respond to reports of sick, injured or dead ones. Some of the group members have received hands-on training from a wildlife avian vet on the treatment of injured birds, but until the group receives a permit from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, it cannot perform rescue aid such as splinting and administering fluids. Right now the rescue group depends on the Juneau Raptor Center to do those treatments.
Anyone who finds a sick or injured bird should call the Skagway Police.
Skagway’s Hannah O’Daniel carves her mask in the beginning stages of an Art Fest leather mask making course. Katie Emmets
First reading of ordinance to buy old City Hall building passes
On April 4, the borough assembly unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance, which, if adopted, would allow the municipality to purchase Skagway’s old City Hall on Fifth Avenue.
During an April 4 assembly meeting, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Superintendent Mike Tranel said the building has been labeled as a contributing element to the Skagway Historical District.
Erected in 1897, the building was first used as Skagway’s first city hall and jail and aided in the detention of Soapy Smith’s gang after vigilantes captured them in July 1898. It also held a meeting of federal land appraisers to transfer the railroad right-of-way to White Pass and Yukon Route.
Though KGRNHP can’t offer the municipality funding for building renovation if it is purchased, Tranel said the park could give technical and architectural support.
Tranel read a letter written in 2002 to building owner Mary Lou Moe that stated NPS could help owners of historical structures in Skagway if the owners are willing to adhere to Secretary of the Interior standards.
The offer still stands if the municipality buys the building, he said, adding that the park could help with technical historic research, condition assessment grant writing assistance, assistance with preservation tax incentives, and architectural and technical support.
Fifth Avenue provides good opportunities for public/private partnerships for building preservation, Tranel said.
“When you look at downtown Skagway, Fifth Avenue actually has a lot of gold rush era buildings that retain their integrity going all the way from the Moore House to the YMCA/Meyers complex,” he said “We will eventually be opening (the YMCA/Meyers Meat Market complex) to the public, so there’s a nice stretch there with some great structures dating all the way back to the gold rush. The city hall building is right in the midst of that.”
Assemblyman Gary Hanson said he lived next to the building for 11 years, but he is no expert.
“I think one of the reasons the building survived, whereas others didn’t, is because it has been used as a residence ever since it was no longer city hall,” he said. “And what I’m afraid of – maybe we’ll find out when we look into it closer – is that a lot of the historic aspects of that building were remodeled away years ago.”
Hanson said he heard rumors that original logs were in some of the walls, but he added that it looks like the building’s original north and south walls aren’t there now. He also said he noticed some of the shingles were made with asbestos.
“We need to initiate some kind of inspection there to see if there’s historic value left in there,” he said. “It would be nice to get the park service to weigh in on it as well to see what it is exactly we’re looking to purchase”
Taking into consideration the amount of projects Skagway is already tackling, resident John Tronrud said he wants to know where the municipality is going.
As someone who has restored a building in the community (The White House), he said, “I understand the costs associated with it and I hope the municipality would consider that as well…. I think it’s shameful the way we approached the library renovation — doing the National Park Service method and putting two beams in the roof and rebuilding everything underneath it doubles the cost.”
Assemblyman and Finance Chair Dan Henry said from a value standpoint, the price of the building is good, regardless of the building condition.
“Not that we have to approach it the way the Pantheon was, which was deconstruction of the entire thing and then reassemble,” he said. “But if we can salvage without a tremendous amount of cost we’re still in pretty good shape.”
The first reading of the ordinance passed with a unanimous vote. Second reading is April 18.
Selmer asks House not to put funding back in budget for Juneau Access
The Alaska State Senate Finance Committee removed a $10 million appropriation for the Juneau Access project in Governor Sean Parnell’s FY14 budget, and Skagway Borough Assembly members authorized Mayor Stan Selmer to send a letter in support of keeping the money out.
Because the Alaska House of Representatives Finance Committee could put funding for the project back into the budget, the letter, which was addressed to House Finance Committee Co-Chairs Alan Austerman and Bill Stoltze, stated that the Municipality of Skagway does not support the appropriation of money for the Juneau Access project in the 2014 Capital Budget.
“The Environmental Impact Survey for Juneau Access is currently under court ordered review and the preferred alternative has yet to be determined,” Selmer wrote. “We believe it would be premature to allocate state transportation dollars to a project of uncertain future.”
Selmer went on to write that the $10 million requested by Governor Sean Parnell for Juneau Access is only a small portion of the funds that will be required to complete the project.
According to a fiscal note Selmer attached to the letter, the annual general fund amount required for the project will be $15 million each year for five years beginning in 2015.
“Total project cost is estimated to be $520,000,000,” the note stated. “ Future appropriations will be a blend of state and federal funds.”
Selmer wrote that Parnell has called for fiscal restraint, and in a time when state and federal transportation dollars are in steep decline, he thinks an unfunded mandate of the magnitude and uncertainty of Juneau Access does not make good fiscal policy.
“We urge you to use the state’s funds wisely and support achievable solutions to the many critical transportation needs that exist throughout Alaska,” he wrote.
Selmer said received a few angry e-mails from Juneau residents in response to the April 5 letter which portrayed him as being “anti-road.”
“I respect their anger,” he said. “However on January 4, I sent a letter, authorized with unanimous support from the assembly, asking for the $10 million for the Juneau Access project appropriated for 2014 perhaps be used to diminish budget shortfalls for the Alaska Class Ferry.”
Selmer said that sentiment was the same in the April 5 letter.
“Nothing has changed,” he said.
The Juneau Access project cannot move forward until the EIS is completed in January 2014, Selmer said, so it seems as if funding for the road isn’t necessary this year and could better serve the state if put into the Alaska Marine Highway System.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Sunday. A full report on legislative decisions for Skagway will appear in the April 26 issue. — KE