May 11, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 8
Just Breezing Through
About 25 snow geese spent the last week of April hunkered down out of the wind in the tall grass at the mouth of the Skagway River waiting for a good day to head north.
Photo by Andrew Cremata
Summer cruise season begins
More people coming to town, including food critics
By KATIE EMMETS
The Carnival Spirit rolled into Skagway’s port on May 4 kicking off the 2012 cruise ship season.
Over the next five months, Skagway is expected to have a minimum of 724,000 cruise ships passengers gracing its streets, tours and shops.
This season will see three four-ship days each week – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – compared to last year’s two four-ship days per week, and seven out of 21 weeks will have four four-ship days by adding the occasional Monday to the list.
According to a Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau release, the Star Princess, which carries 2,600 passengers, will be returning to Skagway after a few years away; the Norwegian Jewel, which holds 2,376, will be replacing the Norwegian Star; Holland America’s Amsterdam will be making two calls in Skagway with 2,760 passengers each time; and Disney Cruise Line will be making port on Thursdays instead of Fridays.
“We are way ahead of last year’s capacity count,” Skagway CVB Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said.
Compared to last year’s final head count of 708,015, the 2012 cruise ship season will see a minimum increase of 15,000 people and a maximum of about 49,000, Donahue said.
“It’s pretty hard to beat Alaska as a destination,” he said of the increase of cruise passengers. “I am biased, but Skagway is the best there is.”
In addition to tourists, Skagway will also be welcoming several travel writers this summer.
Food writers Andrew Collins and Alison Wellner will be in Skagway from June 16–18 to critique and write about Skagway restaurants.
“They will be here for three nights and four days,” Donahue said. “We’re just going to send them out to every restaurant in town.”
If the duo likes what they taste, they will ask to speak to the cooks during their meal. Buckwheat said.
“They want to talk to who’s responsible for the success of the food,” he said.
Collins will be paid by the Convention and Visitors Bureau to write something for its website about Skagway’s restaurants and Wellner is coming to write about something a little more specific.
“She will be writing about the unique cuisine of small town Alaska,” Donahue said. “But she is mainly coming to write something about a particular Indian restaurant that is attracting a lot of hype.”
Bombay Curry drew the attention of a few long-distance admirers last year.
“It’s developing a fan base in Juneau,” he said. “People are calling their friends in Skagway and asking them pick up Bombay Curry and bring it to the airport. And when it gets to Juneau these people drive from wherever they are to the airport to pick up their lunch or dinner.”
Donahue got the idea of inviting a food critic to Skagway when he was eating at Starfire last summer.
While he was having dinner on the outside deck of the Thai restaurant, co-owner Jeffry Hitt suggested he have a food critic come to Skagway. With all the great restaurants in town, Hitt thought it might be a good idea for a critic to rate them all, Donahue said.
Donahue agreed with her and called Thompson Productions, a company that handles public relations for the state of Alaska, and asked for recommendations.
At the Alaska Media Road Show in October, Donahue spoke to Collins about coming this summer, and Collins recently contacted Donahue about Wellner joining him.
Donahue said the state will be paying to fly them to Juneau and Skagway’s Convention and Visitors Bureau will be paying for their expenses, including travel and lodging, in Juneau and Skagway.
“I’m really excited,” he said about the food writers’ arrival. “But nervous to see what they have to say about the restaurants I like to go to.”
Three additional travel writers will be coming to Skagway from the Lower 48 and include Erica Silvetstein from Cruse Critic, Sue Frause, from the Huffington Post, and David Cogswell from TravelPulse.
Frause and Cogswell will be coming for two nights and three days, and Donahue said they would get a good intro to what Skagway has to offer its guests.
Several other Alaskan writers will be making their way to Skagway for the third annual North Words Writers Symposium.
According to its website, the symposium, which runs from May 30–June 2, gives Alaskan writers an unique opportunity to nurture interrelationships with other writers and thinkers in a spectacular place.
There will be nine published authors who will head panel discussions and this year’s keynote speaker will be Scott Silver, who is working on an adaptation of The Floor of Heaven by Howard Blum for Fox 2000. Blum was the symposium’s keynote speaker last year.
Silver co-wrote the movie “The Fighter,” which was nominated for an Academy Award a BAFTA, WGA, and Critic's Choice Award, and he also wrote “8 Mile.”
Above cruise passengers disembark the Carnival Spirit, the first ship of the season, on May 4. The Spirit will make 20 calls to Skagway in 2012 and will carry with it 42,480 passengers throughout the season. The ship was set to make port at the Railroad Dock, but a rock removal project prevented it from doing so. A boulder fell on the Railroad Dock in April diverting the first two ships of the season, the Carnival Spirit and the Volendam, to the Broadway Dock. Jeff Brady
Rail workers, their families and guests gather outside the White Pass rail depot on April 26 for the Blessing of the Fleet before the first passenger train of the season, a special excursion for the Alaska Eagles Convention. Rev. Ryan Mandeville leads the group in prayer and song. Right, brakeman Steve Caulfield sings a song in the program. Andrew Cremata
Teamsters ratify new contract after mediation in D.C.
By KATIE EMMETS
After nearly two and a half years of negotiations and a year of out-of-town mediations, the Teamsters Local 959 workers at White Pass and Yukon Route have ratified a new contract.
The contract was effective on April 27, the day of ratification, and will end on Dec. 31, 2014.
Though labor contracts never expire and can continue indefinitely, Teamster spokesman John Marton of Anchorage said the last contract ended on Dec. 31, 2009.
After its expiration and a year of attempted and failed negotiations toward getting a new contract, Teamster members made a formal request for mediation in December 2010.
Since then, there have been several mediations in the Lower 48.
In August, during mediation in Huston, Texas, Teamster members held an informational picket on the Railroad Dock.
They held blue and yellow signs and passed out sheets of paper telling residents and tourists why the Teamsters deserved a new contract.
The most recent mediation took place from March 28–30 in Washington D.C. with the National Mediation Board, and it ended with the Teamsters and White Pass & Yukon Route concluding negotiations.
The contract was ratified by the Teamster membership in Skagway on April 27 with a 27-6 vote. Thirty-three of 53 members voted.
As a condition of the contract, the Teamsters will receive a $1 per hour pay raise each year through 2014, Marton said.
The contract will be printed and signed by the Teamster bargaining team of Marton, Steve Burnham Jr. and Mike Tadic; and White Pass President Eugene Hretzay.
Hretzay said wrapping up negotiations on the Teamster contract is a relief.
“The negotiations addressed some of their concerns and they addressed some of our concerns,” he said. “And coming to an agreement allows us to work together for the next few years.”
Hretzay said he plans to sign the agreement upon its arrival in his office.
Skagway Reunion celebrates 60th year
By KATIE EMMETS
The 60th annual Skagway Reunion starts today and will be a weekend full of gathering, reminiscing and memories.
There will be 67 former Skagwegians from out of town, and 33 of them will be arriving onboard the Carnival Spirit at 7 a.m., said reunion coordinator Chuck Ask. Chuck and his wife Leda have been organizing the Skagway reunion for the last 30 years.
THis morning, reunion members will ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route railway and then enjoy a Skagway Street Car tour with Steve Hites.
Leda said Hites would give a special reunion tour that focuses more on the reunion members’ lives in Skagway rather than a normal tour that caters to gold rush history. The tour is set to drive by old pioneer houses and take a trip to the Gold Rush Cemetery where Leda said ancestors of reunion members are buried.
The reunion dinner will take place at The Westmark Inn at 1 p.m. and the Asks said there would be over 100 attendees.
Chuck and Leda said reunion members who are traveling from out of town are looking forward to visiting with old friends and loved ones. Those who cannot attend the dinner due to time conflictions are welcomed to meet with reunion members after the meal at about 1:45 p.m. at The Westmark Inn.
Yukon Queen gives way to Klondike Spirit
By JEFF BRADY
After several years of running the Yukon Queen II between Dawson City, Yukon and Eagle, Alaska, Holland America decided to pull the popular tour link on the Yukon River, but it has found an alternative.
The Queen’s segment was part of a Yukon land tour package that took people from two Holland America vessels in Skagway and overland to Dawson and then into Alaska’s interior, or the reverse.
The Queen II, a swift catamaran, had run into some difficulties in recent years, initially with some river residents claiming the boat’s wake was disturbing fish (an environmental review was still pending). Then road washouts on the Taylor Highway to Eagle prevented buses from connecting with the Queen the last two summers.
Meanwhile, another tour boat, the Klondike Spirit, began operation out of Dawson. It has the look of an old sternwheeler and does not disturb the fish. Passengers took day cruises on it, and Holland America liked what it saw. It recently announced an agreement with the Dawson boat, which is owned by Brad Whitelaw of the Triple J. Motel.
Linda Huston, director of excursions for Holland America-Princess, in an e-mail said the change in Dawson will not affect the tours coming through Skagway and heading on up to the Klondike.
Those travelers will still have two nights in Dawson, with options for excursions to Tombstone Territorial Park as well as the Klondike Spirit’s three-hour day cruise on the river.
“We are looking forward to our partnership with the Klondike Spirit,” she said.
What will be missing is the stop and visit in Eagle. Holland America coaches will instead take their people over the Top of the World Highway to Tok, Alaska, bypassing the Taylor cutoff to Eagle, Huston said.
She said the company plans to take the Yukon Queen II to Seattle, where its future will be determined at a later date.
PULLEN OUT PLASTIC – Madison Cox reaches for a piece of plastic she fished out of Pullen Pond at the April 28 Clean Sweep. Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Heather Rodig named Skagway Borough treasurer
Heather Rodig accepted the job of borough treasurer after the Skagway Borough Assembly voted 6-0 to offer her the position.
In a special meeting on May 8, Mayor Stan Selmer told assembly members that Rodig tested very well and was competent in accounting.
“I think this would be the best fit,” he said about giving the job to Rodig.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo, who was on the treasurer search committee, said he was very impressed with Rodig and added that all of her references gave good recommendations and said Rodig “always stepped up to the plate.”
Rodig comes into the treasurer position with an AA in business and accounting and 14 years of accounting experience at White Pass and Yukon Route.
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer said he has worked with Rodig in the past and he said he thinks she is very smart and capable.
There were nine applicants, which the search committee narrowed down to three. After interviewing the three front-runners, they issued a basic accounting test to Rodig and Ashley Royal of Cordova.
Rodig will begin work on June 1.
Second reading of FY13 budget sees additional funding for Skagway Chamber of Commerce, bicycle racks, arts facility
The second reading of the budget passed unanimously after the addition of four amendments.
The first amendment included adding a line item that would fund the Chamber of Commerce in the amount of $45,000.
Chamber funding was not included in the original draft of the FY13 budget, but the chamber made a request to the assembly in order to fund its full time office administrative position.
In May 2011, the assembly amended the FY11 budget to include $45,000 for the chamber to make the part time position office administrator a full time position.
The chamber was having difficulty keeping someone in the part time position, said chamber office administrator Blaine Mero.
Mero said past employees would work for a few months and leave the job for a full time position somewhere else.
Though there are 467 businesses in Skagway, the chamber holds only 135 of them as members.
With 135 members, the chamber is making about $18,000 per year, Mero said, which barely covers the business cost including phones, internet and electricity, let alone funding a full-time employee to take phone calls, answer e-mails and coordinate town events such as Spring Stroll and Skagway’s Fourth of July.
Though Assemblyman Mike Korsmo brought up funding the chamber during assembly discussion, he said he doesn’t know if he is in support of it.
“I’m not going to say no to it this time,” Korsmo said. “But at the next meeting, I might change my tune.”
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said he was apprehensive about funding the chamber in 2011.
Reichert said he thought the whole point of funding the chamber was to get an office administrator there who would help to increase its revenue.
If the assembly funds the chamber this time, it seems like it would continue to fund the chamber every year, he said.
Reichert suggested the full time position be reduced to part time.
Mayor Stan Selmer said although he supports the Skagway Chamber of Commerce, he doesn’t think the assembly should have funded it last year.
“It was an inappropriate use of municipality funds,” he said.
Selmer suggested that the Municipality of Skagway increase the cost of a business license from $10 to $160 to include a $150 chamber membership.
Assemblyman Dan Henry, owner of Skagway Fish Co., said he hasn’t been a member of the Skagway Chamber of Commerce for years.
“I don’t see the benefit of it,” he said.
The assembly voted 4-1 to add the $45,000 line item into the budget during the second reading with Reichert voting no. Dave Hunz was absent from the May 3 meeting.
The Cruise Line Safety and Security line item was reduced to $80,000 from $144,845.
The $64,845 that was taken out at the meeting was originally appropriated for a matching grant, which was set to go toward dock security renovations, but the municipality did not qualify for the grant. The assembly voted 5-0 to take the unnecessary funding out of the budget.
The assembly voted unanimously to add a line item under capital projects that would put $15,000 toward bicycle racks for Skagway streets.
Reichert, who proposed the amendment, said it would help with overcrowded bike rack management and also encourage Skagway to become more bike friendly.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said installing bicycle racks would also prevent people from parking their cars five feet or closer to stop signs, which is illegal.
Reichert also proposed that funding for the outdoor arts facility be increased by $18,000 to cover a shortfall in the first phase, but Henry proposed boosting even more from $250,000 to $350,000 to include all phases during initial construction.
Henry said he supported the increase because he didn’t want the project to lose steam at any point during construction because of lack of funding.
Cochran said while he supports the outdoor arts facility, an arts facility was the lowest on the list of projects the municipality wanted to see funded according to a 2020 municipality comprehensive plan. A public safety building was one of the highest ones on the list, he said, adding that the assembly should be thinking more about funding that.
“We could afford both,” Henry said about the two projects. “And I think we should do both.”
The amendment passed with a 4-1 vote, with Cochran voting no. The budget still has one more reading in June before it is adopted and the mill rate is set.
Recycling committee to request municipality land for future recycling center
The Skagway Recycling Committee has drafted a letter to the assembly asking that municipal land be designated for a future recycling center.
The area the committee is requesting is located south and east of Tax Lot E6 on Main Street and 2nd Avenue. It would surround Corner Propane to the south and to the east.
Because of its proximity to the Alaska Marine Lines staging area the committee thinks this lot would be a prime location for a future recycling building and would provide a convenient drop off spot for residents and businesses.
Though the committee doesn’t have its conprehensive recycling plan completed, it is asking the municipality to set property aside now so Public Works could use it to store recycling containers.
“The idea is that public works would use it for recycling as soon as they need it,” said committee chair Steve Burnham Jr. “And they would probably use it immediately for cardboard.”
In about two weeks, Burnham said, Public Works would run out of places to store cardboard. Because it is the beginning of cruise ship season, businesses are recieving a high volume of cardboard with their shipment purchases, and it needs somewhere to go.
Burnham said the committee would be able to get a better idea of what it would like to see in a recycling building once all of its research into Skagway’s current solid waste and recycling practices is completed.
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
School could recieve additional fundsing from state from education bill
The Skagway School could potentially recieve more than $21,000 from the Alaska State Legislature for its 2012-2013 school year.
On May 1, Governor Sean Parnell said he would sign a bill that would provide additional funding for increased costs of K-12 education.
“I understand the pressure on school district budgets,” Parnell said. “I supported legislation to address specific costs, including pupil transportation and vocational education. School districts will receive more than $50 million in additional funding to deliver quality education to Alaska’s students.”
If signed, the legislation would appropriate $5.9 million for vocational education, $19.7 million for pupil transportation and $25 million as a one time funding based on student enrollment. The money would be split between all Alaska school districts according a state funding formula.
When reporting information to the state for FY13funding, the school gave a projected student count of 64 for next school year.
If the student count at the Skagway School is 64 in October, the school would recieve $21,648, Thielbar said, adding that if the student count is less than 64 the funding will be adjusted downward.
Not counting the potential funds, Skagway School will recieve $501,580 from the state and $1,507,513 from the Municipality of Skagway for FY13.
Thielbar said Skagway School recieves less funding per student than any other district because of the funding formula which is made up of student count and factors surrounding the location of the school such as property values.
“We’re only getting $61 back for transportation,” Thielbar said. “The transportation part really doesn’t help us because of our student count, but districts like Anchorage are recieving thousands of dollars for it.”
Thielbar said the extra funding will go toward buying materials for existing classes. – KE