May 10, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 8
Golden Ferry Love Affair
Members of the Skagway community greet the MV Malaspina at the ferry terminal on May 5 in honor of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s 50th anniversary.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Summit mayors unite, agree to disagree on road issue
Juneau Access battle lines established in cordial setting
By MARGARET FRIEDENAUER
Elected officials from Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Whitehorse met April 26 for what was called a Northern Lynn Canal Neighbors Summit to discuss issues of regional interest for the communities.
The end result of the three-hour discussion in Skagway was an alignment on many issues like energy and ferry concerns. But when it came to the Juneau Access project, the party’s difference of opinion was apparent.
The meeting kicked off with Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford and Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer discussing energy issues, including the prospective hydropower projects each community is working toward, and the hope that those projects could help provide shore power for cruise ship hook ups.
But Sanford said it’s hard to build a project until the need is certain.
“You can’t pay and build something that’s so big that you’re expecting to grow into in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years anymore. You almost have to have enough sales upfront to be able to afford it and keep the price of that hydro down,” Sanford said.
Haines Mayor Stephanie Scott added she thought with hydro and other energy projects, the stakeholders need to be identified to find funding sources rather than relying on just the state or federal government.
“I’m looking for business plans with these projects that name the stakeholders,” Scott said. “If the state is a stakeholder, let them come to the table with some funds. And if they’re not, let them say so.”
Rep. Cathy Munoz, left, meets with the mayors, Stephanie Scott of Haines, Merrill Sanford of Juneau, and Stan Selmer of Skagway, at a reception at the Chilkoot Trail Outpost following the summit meeting. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hosford
Selmer and Whitehorse Deputy Mayor Kirk Cameron also briefly explained that Skagway and Whitehorse are discussing options for an electrical intertie from Whitehorse to Juneau. The Yukon Energy Corporation is planning to be in Skagway this week for more discussions about that.
Talk of the Alaska Marine Highway came next with Skagway and Haines leading the discussion.
Both communities were active this winter in protesting Alaska Governor Sean Parnell’s move to scrap the Alaska Class Ferry project.
The administration’s plan to create two smaller shuttle type ferries for the Upper Lynn Canal drew criticism from small communities in the region.
Juneau residents and officials were less cohesive in their protest of the plan, although Sanford said he didn’t agree with the idea of open stern decks for the shuttle ferries. But he does believe ferry costs need to come under control.
“When you look at the efficiencies of our ferry systems, when supplying our needs, either cargo or passenger throughout our communities whether they be big or small, in my mind the ferry system has gotten out of hand with those costs,” Sanford said.
Talks of ferries segue into discussion about the Juneau Access Road project.
Mayor Scott of Haines was vocal about her opinion of the road – it may end up being built, eventually, but right now, communities like Haines and Skagway still rely on the ferries.
“The idea of a road link is still out there and that may happen too but what we’re going to have today, tomorrow and in the next 10 years are the ferries so we need to make sure that system is intact, efficient and viable,” Scott said.
Sanford point blank said nothing was going to change his mind that a road or combination of road and ferry systems was the only option left for opening up more economic possibilities for the region.
“We all believe and we all know where we stand, I think we’ve all listened to all the different debates for all of our lives, everyone that’s here, and I think we’ve basically made up our minds already,” he said. “I respect Mike’s position and Stephanie’s position, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to change my beliefs.”
Still, they attempted to find common ground.
Scott asked if maybe all the communities could get behind a road from Juneau to Kensington Mine at least. Some Haines Borough Assembly members said they would be more inclined to support a west side road project, rather than one on the East Side of Lynn Canal. Selmer suggested Juneau keep exploring the road option from Taku Inlet to British Columbia.
The three-hour meeting addressed only half the items on the agenda. As host mayor, Selmer closed the meeting on a light note, pointing out a box of wooden toothpicks his staff bought him.
“They bought me these toothpicks because I always said I would rather put these under my finger nails rather than bite my tongue. But I didn’t have to do that today,” Selmer said. “And I was really apprehensive about this meeting at times and it was weighing on me. But I think we’ve demonstrated Skagway, Haines, Juneau and Whitehorse are at least commonly geographically located and there’s nothing we can do about that.”
The meeting in Skagway was supposed to include officials from Whitehorse, Yukon and the Yukon Energy Authority, but they were unable to attend because of weather and road closures. Whitehorse Deputy Mayor Kirk Cameron joined by phone, as did Representative Beth Kerttula and Senator Dennis Egan. Rep. Cathy Munoz attended in person.
The mayors tentatively planned another summit for November in Haines.
Special thanks to KHNS News for use of this story. Reporter Katie Emmets was stuck in Whitehorse during this event, and editor Jeff Brady was with the robotics team in St. Louis. Our apologies for not getting any Clean Sweep shots.
Unusual ‘spring’ weather causes problems all over Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
For the last two months, Skagway has experienced weather patterns that have resulted in snow slides that halted hydropower production, caused highway travelers to get stuck in Canada for days, delayed a WP&YR train for hours, and residents to question if a real spring will ever come.
On May 4, an avalanche at Kasidaya Creek caused the Alaska Power and Telephone hydroelectric project to stop producing electricity.
“Sometime last weekend there was an avalanche that created an ice dam in the valley quite a ways above the diversion,” said Skagway AP&T Manager Darren Belisle.
At 9:30 p.m. on the May 4, the ice dam broke and sent a four-foot wall of water down the canyon onto AP&T’s hydroelectric operating equipment at the small dam about three miles south of Skagway.
“It displaced a lot of things and sent a lot of sticks, ice and rocks down the pipe,” he said. “It plugged up the pipe, and that shut down the water flow through the needle to the power plant.”
Belisle said a crew was at Kasidaya on Tuesday working to get the hydro generating equipment running again. By that evening, they had the penstock cleared of debris and the system up and running.
The workers straightened the debris catching screen located at the opening of the pipe because it was bent and damaged in the avalanche. They also opened up the pipe and ran water through it in an attempt to clear the sticks and rocks out.
“They did good work,” Belisle said. “As of 5:30 (Tuesday) we were off diesel.”
Skagway’s hydroelectricity production wasn’t the only thing that was halted by avalanches.
On April 25 the Klondike Highway was closed after about ten avalanches obstructed the road on the Alaska side, said Skagway Department of Transportation Equipment Operator Josh Sims.
By the end of the day, workers from Skagway cleared the road. The next day, however, a large avalanche occurred on the Canadian side near Tutshi Lake, which kept the road closed till the morning of the 27th.
Sims said the road closed again on the 28th because of a slide on the Canadian side of the road.
An avalanche in Box Canyon on May 4 caused the White Pass and Yukon Route passenger train to be stuck for five hours on the second cruise ship day of the year.
Bob Tschantz, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau, said unusually prolonged winter weather conditions have contributed to the number of avalanches occurring in Southeast Alaska.
“The mountains got quite a bit more snow than normal, and the fact that it snowed in April didn’t help matters,” he said.
The high amount of snow pack that accumulated in the mountains increased the avalanche danger, he said.
“As far as prolonged cold, it hasn’t happened in this fashion since before I moved here in 1994,” he said. “We haven’t had extended snowfall with good accumulating snow in late April in a really long time.”
Tschantz said northern areas of the Lower 48 have been experiencing unusually cold temperatures with a lot of late season winter storms as well.
“January and February were pretty mild, and March and April were cooler than average,” he said of Southeast Alaska.
It even snowed on Clean Sweep.
For the last two months Skagway has seen a northwesterly flow of air, which kept it on the cooler side, Tschantz said, but it looks like that pattern is finally coming to an end.
“The big rain event we had last week may be a sign of warmer patterns starting to develop,” he said.
Tschantz said Skagway will see no more 30-degree temperatures at night, and added that it will be in the 40s, if not into the low 50s, in the next couple weeks.
Already this week, temperatures were pushing 60 during the day. And the 19-20 swans, who had been holding fast in Dyea for several weeks, had moved on this week. A sure sign summer is near.
AIDEA unveils more detailed plans for future ore hauls
By KATIE EMMETS
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Deputy Director Jim Hemsath recently gave municipal officials an update of an ongoing study on ore terminal development and how to accommodate potential customers.
The mining companies AIDEA has been in contact with are Capstone Mining Corp., Eagle Industrial Metals, Western Copper and Gold Corp., Prophecy Platinum Corp., Chieftain Metals Inc. and Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd.
At the May 2 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Hemsath told the members that the maximum amount of ore AIDEA envisions Skagway exporting per year is 890,000 tons. While that 890,000-ton number includes Selwyn’s ore production, Hemsath said it’s probably realistic to assume that Selwyn will choose Stewart, British Columbia as its port.
“On a reasonable approach, we believe we’re in the 600,000 to 700,000 tons per year of ore at peak,” he said.
With a 700,000-ton maximum, Hemsath said, Skagway would be looking at 300 trucking days per year within a 10-month period and added there would be no more than three trucks per hour on a 24/7 basis.
“That isn’t really an overwhelming traffic rate,” he said. “The truck traffic itself within the 10-month period would be modest in and out of the community — constant but modest.”
There will be between 60 trucks going in and out of Skagway each day, which will require about 60 drivers.
“I’ve asked the question, ‘can we make at least some portion of the drivers Skagway residents?’” he said. “Mining companies have no problem; Lynden has no problem with that.”
There will be an increase in jobs at the terminal itself, Hemsath said, but there is an opportunity for the creation of about 30 driving jobs for Skagway residents.
AIDEA has also been looking at ways to improve the ore terminal in order to accommodate the higher ore load, once the new mines are ready to move their product.
Hemsath said the existing ore terminal storage facilities could accommodate up to 1 million tons of ore at a time, so with a 700,000-ton peak, nothing major needs to be done construction-wise.
“The facility itself, as it’s currently designed, we believe can handle any kind of mining traffic that we see in the foreseeable future from the Yukon,” he said, adding that the facility could be expanded to a 1,000-foot length in the future, but it would still maintain the same profile.
The only change to the facility AIDEA is considering is operational, and it would be adding 15- to 20-foot push walls, which would allow the ore to be stacked up about 10 feet high against the walls.
“In doing that, it gives enough initial capacity that we don’t have to do anything else,” he said. “We don’t need to raise the roof, we don’t need a top stacker; it’s basically the existing facility.”
Hemsath also mentioned that AIDEA might acquire land to the west of the terminal with a new 2023 lease with the Municipality of Skagway, which would allow for more room for the large ore trucks to turn. The space might also give the trucks a place to park until they leave town.
AIDEA also has plans for what it would like to see done with the ore dock and the ship loader, but it is waiting on the municipality to present its Gateway Project plans before moving forward.
Finlayson quickly learning the rail business
By KATIE EMMETS
Despite readjusting to northern weather temperatures and having an avalanche delay a train on the second day of the season, new White Pass and Yukon Route President John Finlayson said he is very happy to be in Skagway.
Finlayson graduated from the University of Toronto and has worked in the golf industry for the last 25 years. He started with White Pass parent ClubLink as a director at various golf clubs and then became a regional manager and oversaw several golf clubs in the west Toronto area.
For the last three years, Finlayson has been in Florida aiding ClubLink in the acquisition of 13 golf courses throughout the state.
Though he has no experience managing a tourism train operation, Finlayson said the two industries have similar goals.
“In golf we’re trying to provide an exceptional experience to the members and we have to work very well as a team to do that,” he said. “And the business we’re in here at White Pass, we’re also trying to offer an exceptional experience to our guests and to our passengers, and we have to work very well as a team to do that.”
Finlayson said he has loved the time he’s spent in Skagway so far and added that the residents have been “warm, sincere and unbelievably welcoming” to him.
“I’ve always lived in a larger town, but now I’m starting to think I was meant to live in a smaller town,” he said with a laugh during an interview in his office this week.
Finlayson said he looks forward to having good community relations and thinks communication is crucial for the success of his company.
“In the golf world it’s extremely important to be good community citizens and participate in community activities,” he said. “In the community of Skagway, it might be magnified because it’s such an intimate community.”
White Pass has deep Skagway roots and there are a lot of year-round residents who work for the railroad.
“I think more than any other operation that I’ve been in there’s a huge codependency – we’re very dependent on the town, and the town is very dependent on us,” he said.
Though communication is the key, Finlayson admitted it could also be tricky.
“I try to operate on the basis of not supplying any misinformation,” he said.
New White Pass & Yukon Route President John Finlayson stands by the historic caboose outside his office at the Skagway rail depot. Jeff Brady
Finlayson said he understood there was an issue in the past, referring to former White Pass President Eugene Hretzay’s communication of a possible rail ore haul without ClubLink directors’ consent. Because Finlayson didn’t understand all the details of that matter, he said it would be irresponsible of him to comment on what happened prior to his arrival at White Pass.
“But I can speak to how I’m going to operate going forward,” he said.
Finlayson said he reports to a board of directors in Toronto, which ultimately makes all the significant decisions on company business operations.
“I’ll do my very best to make sure that when I comment on something that it is representing our company’s view, and thus our board of directors view and our majority share holder Rai Sahi’s view,” he said. “So I’ll have to be proactive to make sure I fully understand the stance they have and their positions before I communicate what the company’s position is.”
As in every public company, he said, there is a governance issue, which gives the operator so much leeway.
“As a rule, I try to under promise and over deliver,” he said with a laugh. “So I’m pretty conservative on what I comment on and how I comment on it.”
Finlayson said he attended negotiations with the Municipality of Skagway last winter when officials met with White Pass in Florida over ore dock issues, and he is familiar with past waterfront lease negotiations.
Finlayson said he couldn’t comment on what White Pass’s stance is on ideas for negotiations past the lease’s 2023 end date at this point.
“That’s undecided and up in the air,” he said. ‘I couldn’t comment either way on that because it’s still an outstanding issue.”
Finlayson said this summer has been going well despite a train-delaying avalanche on the second day of the season.
The slide came down in the Box Canyon area just past Glacier Station after the morning train had passed.
Though passengers were delayed for more than five hours, White Pass management received about 13 comment cards raving about their experience.
“It was a testament to the people we have working here,” he said.
Finlayson first visited Skagway three years ago with ClubLink officials and spent some time at White Pass.
“I remember how struck I was by the staff’s passion for what they do here,” he said. “And I’m happy to be a part of that.”
Because total cruise ship passenger numbers are going to be higher than last year, Finlayson thinks it will translate well for White Pass’s train tours.
Marketing Director Allison Haas said White Pass raised its summit excursion by $2 but lowered the Carcross excursion ticket price to entice people to take that train.
Finlayson said he is happy to be in Skagway and looks forward to learning more about the company he now heads.
“At the end of the day my mandate is to understand as much as I can and learn as much as I can about the operation,” he said. “I’m obviously very new to this business model.”
WORLD CLASS – The state champion robotics team from Skagway poses with the emcees at the World Festival in St. Louis after receiving the second place Core Values Inspiration Award. Follow Team Arthridroids’ thrilling adventure on page 5. Greg Clem
Municipality to stop rec center siding project anticipating expansion
The Skagway Borough Assembly has decided to halt work on a Skagway Recreation Center siding project to allow for expansion in the future.
The original contract with Hunz & Hunz Enterprises quoted the re-siding of the north wall at $26,625 for labor and equipment.
If the municipality doesn’t want to continue at this time, it would reduce construction costs by $5,500..
Borough Manager George Edes said if the municipality wants to delay the siding project and continue with a 20-foot expansion at a later date, H&H recommends that the municipality buy the panels for the expansion of the east and west walls now so they would match the north wall panels that are already purchased.
The paneling for the east and west walls would cost about $17,225.
“If the municipality were to want to delay installation of the north wall and acquire materials for the east and west wall for later installation, (H&H) would look for us to pay an additional $11,725 in order to put ourselves in the situation to do the expansion,” he said.
Edes said there also would be storage costs.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said he thinks the rec center should be expanded because it would allow for more space and better ventilation.
“I went and toured it today because I probably haven’t done that since first grade,” he said. “It’s extremely cramped, and having been in gyms down south, I wouldn’t want to go use that if there was more than five people in the weight room.”
Burnham said he thinks the municipality should not move forward with finishing the north wall but should buy the extra materials to match it when the expansion happens.
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said there was a budget request from the rec center for engineering for expansion of the rec center.
“Expanding the building itself to the north is the preferred number one thing on the top of the list,” Reichert said of the rec center board’s priorities.
Mayor Stan Selmer said he thinks the municipality needs to use more caution in the future.
“My only concern is the obvious one, which is we did a project and halfway through it we decided it wasn’t a project we wanted to do,” he said. “We need to be more aware of this in the future.”
Assemblyman Dan Henry said the assembly would put a pause on the project and look at the budget cycle as far as engineering and expansion costs to determine a timeline for the expansion.
The slips are back at the Small Boat Harbor and are filling up fast as phase one of the expansion project nears completion. JB
PND Engineers awarded contract for phase two of boat harbor project
The assembly approved PND Engineers, Inc. as the engineers for phase two of the Skagway Small Boat Harbor improvement project.
Phase two will see engineering and expansion of the north half of the harbor and includes dredging, adding floats, a drive down ramp and moving the fuel float to the west side of the harbor to give larger vessels the capability of fueling inside the harbor.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he thinks the municipality needs to move forward with phase two.
“It’s pretty important for me to finish this out,” he said. “The harbor is really nice right now, but I’d like to see us expand it and to do what we wanted to do originally, so I’m supporting it.”
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said he doesn’t like what he’s seen in regards to the last five projects PND has completed.
“We’d be better off knowing for sure that we wouldn’t be redoing the project,” he said. “So I’m not going to support this.”
Korsmo said PND has designed port cell walls that have been used throughout the country and all over the west coast. He agreed that the company had some failures in the recent past, but attributed them to the area upon which the walls were constructed.
“This area of the harbor is probably more conducive to their cell wall design being that it’s a solid land mass compared to an unstable bank or an inlet that has incredibly shifting currents.”
The assembly awarded PND with the engineering for phase two of the small boat harbor with a 5-1 vote, with Burnham voting no. — KE
School board hires 2013-14 teachers
The Skagway School board has approved the hiring of a science teacher and a career vocation teacher who will begin next school year.
The board has been looking to fill these positions since it realized there was timber receipt funding from the state last year.
Husband and wife duo Jeffrey and Shayla Shelton met school board members Stuart Brown and Darren Belisle at a job fair earlier in the year, and Brown and Belisle thought they would be a perfect fit for Skagway School.
Though there is usually a committee appointed to hire teachers, which consists of a board member, a teacher and someone from the Skagway community, board members wanted to ensure they secured the Sheltons so they didn’t look to take jobs elsewhere.
Before going to the job fair, Brown and Belisle received the board’s permission to try to secure any teacher they thought would fit either job description.
Even though they could have offered a contract at the fair, Brown said he didn’t because he wanted to be able to come back and discuss hiring the Sheltons with other board members.
“I did have them sign a teacher’s description paper just so I could have them sign something,” he said with a smile.
Jeffrey Shelton will be teaching 9th and 10th grade integrated sciences, astronomy, physics, automobile technology and woodworking.
Shayla Shelton will be teaching computer science, life skills/career-college prep and foods and nutrition. She will also help oversee the renewed On The Job training program and dual enrollment program with Vivian Meyer.
The Sheltons are teaching in Point Hope right now, and will bring their six children to Skagway with them when they move this summer.
“I’m really excited for them to be here,” Brown said. “I think you guys are going to love them.”
The board also voted to approve Courtney Mason as the preschool teacher/kindergarten aide and high school counselor.
Next year’s kindergarten class is projected to be larger than normal, so Mason will be an aide for kindergarten teacher Denise Caposey in the afternoon. Mason will also take on the role of guidance councilor for middle and high school students and talk to them about class options and plans for after graduation.
“I’m excited, and I know Courtney will do a fantastic job,” Belisle said. “She does a great job at whatever she does.”
Pictured above are the winners of the Skagway School’s Alaska Marine Highway 50th anniversary art competition. The competition’s first place winner was Iraida Hisman (front row right), the second-place winner was Zoe Wassman (back row), the third-place winner was Benjamin Burnham (left) and the fourth-place winner was Tatum Sager (middle). Students were shown the KTOO AMHS documentary “Alaska’s Marine Highway,” which inspired these students to create their art work. The first-place winner, Iraida, won a $500 “golden ticket” toward AMHS travels in the future. These pieces and others made by Skagway students were on display at AB Hall on May 5th when Skagway threw a 50th anniversary reception. Katie Emmets
New superintendent, personnel contracts approved by board
The board approved a contract for new Skagway School superintendent Joshua Coughran.
Coughran will begin with a base pay of $88,000 per year, which is the same amount Thielbar was offered when he first began at the school.
The school will pay up to $5,000 in moving expenses for Coughran and his family, and he will also receive a $1,800 rent stipend per month.
Belisle said he thinks the contract provides a fair starting rate and gives room for rises in the future.
The board also approved non-certified personnel contracts at the meeting.
For the 2013-14 school year, Rick Ackerman was awarded the maintenance director contract; Rick Hess was awarded the technology coordinator contract, Helen Crouch was awarded the librarian contract, Cindy O’Daniel was awarded the business manager and activities director contracts, and Debbie Knorr was awarded the administrative assistant contract.
Departing Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said he is happy with the contract approvals and the new hires.
“We are fully staffed for next year, which was one of my main goals,” he said. – KE