May 25, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 9
Surprise Grad Gusher
Graduation speaker Mark Jennings launches off a surprise shot from a water gun before addressing the 2012 graduates at the May 16 ceremony. See Class of 2012 page for more photos and memorable quotations.
Photo by Kile Brewer
Skagway seeks 40 trucking jobs from Selwyn Chihong
Mine requests confirmation of plan by June 30
By KATIE EMMETS
Mayor Stan Selmer has written Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. asking for a guarantee of at least 40 trucking jobs based in Skagway. The letter was sent May 18 in response to a correspondence from the mining company expressing a desire to be more welcomed in the Skagway community. The letter was actually sent to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority with a copy to Selmer.
In the letter to AIDEA director Jim Hemsath, newly appointed Selwyn President and CEO Brad Marchant wrote that “[Selwyn] must be welcome in the community of Skagway with a mutually rewarding port modernization undertaking.”
Selmer discussed it with Skagway Borough Assembly members during an executive session at a May 17 meeting. The assembly voted unanimously to send the response.
“Your desire to become a welcome part of our community must go beyond shipping ore through town,” Selmer wrote in the response.
“There must be a willingness to employ people. Up to 40 drivers jobs, plus maintenance facility jobs, and perhaps others.”
Selmer also wrote that that Selwyn has been silent in regard to Skagway employment since November 2011 when it announced in an Anchorage meeting that it would be willing to give jobs to local residents.
“In addition to employment, there will be an expectation by the residents of the community that the school, clinic, fire department and other elements of our community could obtain special needs financial support from mining companies,” he wrote.
Selmer cited that Capstone and Alexco already contribute to community needs and have created four jobs for residents.
Marchant also wrote in his letter that Selwyn is looking for written confirmation from Skagway and AIDEA that Selwyn’s proposed ore terminal expansion plan is an orderly and logical advancement of Skagway’s formal 2008 Port Expansion plan. Selwyn also wants Skagway and AIDEA to assure long-term, secure access to an ocean port.
If the two entities are able to do so, Marchant wrote, the mining company is prepared to begin detailed discussions with AIDEA to develop a reimbursement agreement and a usage agreement.
Marchant wrote that Selwyn must receive written assurance from both AIDEA and Skagway by June 30 ensuring that Selwyn’s proposed ore terminal expansion plan, or a plan close to it, is in fact Skagway’s Port Development Plan. He is also asking that AIDEA and Skagway ensure port usage limitations will be removed, and that there will be no other impediments to facilitates.
Marchant added that Selwyn is also evaluating other port and transport options that meet the Selwyn’s project’s requirement for capacity; regulatory best practices; open port access; fair, reasonable and certain cost structure; product protection from cross contamination; best concrete handling environmental safeguards; and ease of commercial business transaction.
“Given the expected project timetable, and if the Skagway port limitations prevent development of [Selwyn’s proposed ore terminal expansion plan] and the linked issues remain unresolved, [Selwyn] will have no other alternative but to suspend further consideration of Skagway as an attractive port,” Marchant wrote.
Selmer wrote in the response letter that the municipality would not be able to come up with written assurance by June 30.
“Without a way for our citizenry to have access to AIDEA and [Selwyn] for the purpose of frank discussions about jobs, impacts and other interaction and then to hold a referendum, a written assurance is not possible from the Municipality of Skagway,” Selmer wrote.
He said the assembly suggests that Selwyn hold a public forum for the community of Skagway where it can present the company’s plans and consider the public’s interest in order to secure a favorable vote in the regularly scheduled October municipal election.
“Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. will have to make the best business decision for its shareholders and Skagway can be expected to do no less for its residents,” Selmer wrote. “There is certainly an equal opportunity for all of us to reopen the dialogue and try to find the common ground necessary to have [Selwyn] use Skagway as a preferred port.”
Wayne Selmer, left, poses with reunion coordinators Chuck and Leada Ask. Dee Mason, 99, sits at the head of the table, next to her great grandaughter Courtney Mason. Katie Emmets
Sixtieth Skagway Reunion filled with history
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway Reunion started with an impromptu rescue mission.
On May 11, about 40 reunion members were on a White Pass & Yukon Route train headed for the summit when they were told the train would be picking up passengers from a Fraser train that was stuck in a snowdrift.
The summit train brought the passenger cars of the troubled train back to town, and the endeavor created a half hour delay in the reunion schedule.
Leada Sheleby Ask, co-organizer of the reunion, said she was worried reunion members would be upset with the delay, which would delay other tours and the reunion dinner.
“They were thrilled with the experience,” Leada said of the train reunion group. “Only old Skagway family members would have felt that way. Everyone else would have felt inconvenienced.”
Leada and her husband Chuck have been organizing the Skagway reunion for the last 30 years – half of the reunion’s existence.
This year, for its 60th anniversary, the Asks decided it was time to bring the gathering back to Skagway.
The last time the reunion was held in in town was in 1998 for the gold rush centennial.
Held at the Westmark Inn, the 60th reunion dinner had 105 guests, four of whom were at the very first Skagway Reunion in 1952.
Phyllis Brown, George and Edna Rapuzzi’s niece who moved back to Skagway in 1986, came to the first dinner when she was 17. Sheila Sparks Ralph and Carol Sparks Harp, granddaughters of early Skagway artist Vic Sparks, also came to the dinner.
Leada said these women were all young children at the first reunion, which was held in Washington.
Gene Reynoldson Thorsteinson, who was also at the first reunion, was here with her children and grandchildren. Along with Thorsteinson, there were a few additional families that had several generations in attendance.
“We thought that was really special,” Leada said. “Even children are getting in on the reunion. People have so much history in Skagway that they want to share it with their kids.”
At the head of one of the tables, Dee Mason sat next to her great-granddaughter Courtney.
Dee turned 99 years old this week, Leada said.
“She still obviously enjoys a good party,” Leada said. “That was part of her personality all of those years in Skagway. It was great that she could enjoy the reunion with her family.”
Leada said she and Chuck visit Southeast Alaska often because of friends and family in Juneau and Skagway, adding that last weekend provided the extra bonus of family, friends and reunion members.
Because of the location of this year’s reunion, Leada said, a lot of former Skagwegians who wouldn’t normally attend the reunion made the journey home.
“There was a lot of reminiscing and hugs and shared memories,” she said. “My goodness, that is what reunions are all about.”
Skagway grouped with Petersburg and Downtown Juneau in newly approved redistricting plan
By KATIE EMMETS
The Alaska Supreme Court approved a redistricting map for this year's elections on May 22 that did not include a Southeast Alaska plan, which would have put Skagway in a district with Haines, Gustavus and Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley.
The court rejected the originally proposed plan in April when Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy said it was not drawn based on state constitutional requirements.
The original plan grouped Skagway, Petersburg and Downtown Juneau. For its original plan, the redistricting board redrew Southeast Alaska giving major consideration to the Federal Voting Rights Act, which called for a predominantly Alaska Native district, said board executive director Taylor Bickford.
“The court told us to disregard the Federal Voting Rights Act and redraw Southeast Alaska based solely on state constitutional requirements,” Bickford said. “We didn’t really agree with it, but when the court tells you to do something, you do it.”
The redistricting board submitted an amended plan on May 10, and it caused quite a stir in Southeast.
“A number of objections were filed with the court primarily from Alaska Native tribes in Southeast pushing back on the court and saying ‘you need to follow the voting rights of Southeast,’ ” Bickford said.
Though he said he couldn’t speak for the court, Bickford said he thinks the objections to the newly proposed districts worried justices that they may have made a mistake and didn’t realize the strong need for a native district in Southeast.
“From the board’s perspective, we’re pleased,” Bickford said. “We’re glad the court reconsidered the issue and re-implemented the original plan, which we think will serve Southeast well and allow Alaska Natives the ability to elect their candidates of choice into office.”
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer said the Skagway Borough Assembly felt OK with the original plan, which linked Skagway with the City of Petersburg and Downtown Juneau.
A few months ago, Selmer met with Sen. Dennis Egan (D-Juneau) and Rep. Beth Kertulla (D-Juneau) to get acquainted with Skagway’s possible to-be politicians.
“I felt comfortable with our interactions and ability to work with them,” Selmer said.
When the Alaska Redistricting Board submitted an amended plan, there were five proposed maps drawn. The first option, which was the preferred option, paired Skagway with Haines and the Mendenhall Valley.
If implemented, Selmer said, Option A would have made sense because of proximity. Haines and the valley are Skagway’s closest neighbors.
“We’re still in Skagway, we’re still going to have needs, we’re still going to have a lobbyist to work with the legislation,” he said. “I think we will be represented well in whichever district we are in.”
TOWER TREK – Members of Michael Yee’s party explore the Taku towers on the Taku Glacier during their recent trip across the Juneau Icefield. Michael Yee
Three area ski groups trek icefield to Skagway
By KILE BREWER
It took some convincing, but Tyler Zelgart finally decided to join Marcus “The Italian Stallion” Taffera and “Skookum” Joe Osterling, both about ten years his senior, for an adventure unlike anything he had done before.
“I learned so much from those dudes, and from the trip,” Zelgart said. “Not only knowledge of the backcountry but also just about the experience of being with those two guys.”
The trip was a 20-day expedition from Juneau to Skagway and back again. Starting with a 91-mile hike from the Juneau Icefields to the Denver Glacier.
During this stretch Tafferra and Oesterling used skis with climbing skins while Zelgart chose to use his splitboard, a snowboard that splits in half to create two ski-like pieces on which skins can be attached.
With their 60-pound packs and 70-pound sleds, the able-bodied group was pushing forward, completing the hike in 13 days, in addition to one weather day.
“There was that one day when we were just really socked in,” Zelgart said. “The snow and wind were just too much, all visuals were shot.”
Due to a miscommunication with their pilot, Zelgart and his party were looking at the wrong spot on the map for the first three days until they realized they had been misinformed.
“The pilot just said he had dropped us off at the wrong mountain,” Zelgart said. “That was probably our biggest problem on the Icefield.”
It was during the first night on the icefield that Zelgart realized how important and special this trip was.
“It was that first night when I realized it,” Zelgart said. “I’d spent the day not knowing if I was prepared to even be up there. But then, after we got camp set up and we were taking pulls of whiskey, I was like ‘We’re really doing it.’ That first night was the best, and the Icefield is a really special place.”
After the 91-mile trek, the team rendezvoused with a helicopter that carried them to Skagway for the next leg of their journey, heading back to Juneau, this time by sea.
They put their kayaks in the water and started their voyage back to Juneau.
A five-day paddle, Zelgart described it as a nice way to end the trip.
“There were whales breaching 200 yards off our decks, and sea lions tailing us,” he said.
During one day of the paddle, the team got caught in gale-force winds.
“We were caught with our pants down,” Zelgart said, “but the rest of the trip went smoothly.”
As is often the case in extended outings with a small tight-knit group, the three men got to know each other better than they had before.
“I feel like I gained a great bromance with two epic mountain men,” Zelgart said. “I’m glad they convinced me to go, I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
About two days after Zelgart’s party finished up the Icefield, another group was boarding a fixed-wing ski plane and heading up to the Emperor Peak area to begin their route across the snow and ice.
Dennis Bousson, Michael Yee, Aric “Krusty” Baldwin and Cynde Adams began what they expected to be a 14-day trip.
“We got hammered by weather,” Yee said. “There were a minimum of five down days where we couldn’t even move. It was total whiteout.”
The weather challenges made moving slow for the team. Yee said there were very few full days because they would just get caught in weather and be forced to stop.
“Sure, we could have used a GPS to get us through weather, but we wanted to see,” Yee said. “That would have defeated the purpose, we were there to see everything.”
Snow-buried tents sit in the Juneau Icefield. Michael Yee and his party only had a few full days during their trip across the glaciers. “Some days we wouldn’t get started ‘til 1 or 2 p.m.,” Yee said. “Then, a couple hours after we started moving we found ourselves setting up camp again because we just couldn’t move. Michael Yee
After continued weather challenges and the occasional side-trip to go skiing on the nearby peaks, the trip ended up lasting 15 days, which Yee said still wasn’t enough for the adventurous group.
“We wanted, and needed extra days,” Yee said. “The hardest part of the trip wasn’t the weather. The hardest part was getting off (the Icefield), because none of us wanted to.”
The group’s dynamic seemed to have made the trip the best it could have been.
“Krusty provided a variety of comic relief and body odors,” Yee said. “Denny gave us an enormous amount of life, wisdom and insight, and Cynde is proof that the male gender is inferior and insensitive. That’s something we all had a good laugh over. It was a great team. We went through a lot of stuff with a lot of smiles.”
The third group took a slightly different approach.
With their packs full and their spirits up, Dan Lesh, Franz Mueter and Mike Hekkers hoofed it from Juneau up Blackerby Ridge and toward the Icefield.
The men then followed the Lemon, Taku, Mathes and Meade glaciers before finally reaching the Denver Glacier.
On the Denver, or, what Lesh calls the “Upper Denver,” they soon realized the challenge that faced. At about 6,000 feet they discovered that their path down to the “Lower Denver” wasn’t going to be easy. As they ascended, approaching the 6,200-foot peak on the Denver, they set up camp and pondered their way down.
After a scouting trip without packs they found a route and made the trip down.
From the bottom of the Denver they made their way to Devil’s Punch Bowl, and on to Upper Dewey Lake where they hopped the Upper Dewey trail and continued on to Skagway.
It was an 11.5-day trip, and the weather didn’t help things.
“We had two sunny days,” Lesh said. “We got hit with over 50 inches of fresh snowfall and had ten days of very limited visibility.”
In addition to wild weather conditions, Lesh faced another problem. On day six, as the group was making one of their border crossings back into the United States, his right boot fell apart. There he was on a 6,800-foot pass, forced to strap up his destroyed footwear with a Voile strap, duct-tape and wire.
“For five days I had serious pain and cold sensations,” Lesh said. “But it wasn’t cold enough for frostbite. Feet are always an issue; blisters, the cold, poor circulation, but it was a lot worse having a broken boot.”
However, that same day Lesh had the experience that he considers the highlight of the trip. As the three men were hiking the pass somewhere on the Canadian border, having seen no signs of life since beginning their circuit of glaciers, a lone warbler paid them a visit from above.
“We hadn’t seen life in days, and this teeny bird comes out of nowhere and just lands on my friend’s pack,” Lesh said.
Amidst mountain passes and ancient sheets of ice, this little bird made quite an impression; it was a special experience for the group.
The determined crew met their goal and traveled from road system to road system, walking the entire distance between Juneau and Skagway.
“Despite the 50 inches of snow, having no visibility and the fact that none of us had done this before, it was really fun and challenging,” Lesh said. “It was a fun way of pushing yourself and experiencing that sense of adventure; and you know, I got to know my friends a lot better.”
PHOTO FEATURE: Skagway High Class of 2012
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Budget gets four readings; lower mill rates ahead
The FY13 budget will go to a fourth reading after assembly members made the decision to use the budget surplus to lower mill rates by adjusting the General Fund property tax revenue.
In a May 17 meeting, it was decided by the assembly that the rates and revenue for Skagway’s five service areas be recalculated for a fourth reading of the budget on June 7.
This is the third year the budget has run a surplus, said Mayor Stan Selmer, adding that he would like to see that surplus be used to lower property taxes.
Selmer said he and the assembly members have both looked at the numbers and feel the taxpayers are owed a break.
Though numbers were not calculated at press time, Selmer said the mill rates have the potential to be reduced quite a bit.
During the third reading of the proposed budget, they were as follows:
Service Area I – 8.00 mills
Service Area II – 6.60 mills
Service Area III – 5.28 mills
Service Area IV – 1.44 mills
Before the assembly decided to extend budget discussions to a fourth reading, there were ten amendments to the proposed budget.
The $45,000 line item created in a May 3 meeting for the Skagway Chamber of Commerce’s office administrator position was amended to $22,500. After Mayor Stan Selmer learned the chamber had enough money to fund the position through October, he suggested the line item be reduced by half.
The assembly also voted to add $10,000 for a new Alaska Marine Highway study in light of the recent summer ferry schedule change, which does not include a ferry to Skagway on Sundays. During the May 17 meeting Selmer appointed an ad hoc committee of Jan Wrentmore, Mike Korsmo and Gary Hanson to look into the change.
Senior Services funding was increased by $5,000 to assist Skagway residents who are under 60 years old but still need transportation assistance.
The assembly added a line item for the Historic District Commission’s sign font analysis program, which will expand the fonts and alphabets allowed on historic district buildings and businesses.
The administration fund’s engineering money was increased from $5,000 to $15,000 to allow for future municipal projects.
Other amendments included adding a line item of $2,000 for Skagway’s Coastal Management Program, adjusting funding between line items in the Public Works Fund and adding $50,000 to recycling expenses in the Solid Waste Fund.
Assembly increases investment percentage for equities
Recent changes to the Skagway Municipal Code will hopefully bring about greater returns from investment of general funds.
A 4-1 vote pushed the ordinance through, with Assemblyman Dave Hunz voting no due to language that continued this change into the future, something he thought could cause problems for future assemblymen.
The general fund was formerly handled with the main objective being the overall safety of the money. Now, it will be handled to encourage income and growth of the fund.
Language was changed to increase the maximum amount that can be invested in equities (stocks) from 60 percent of the total portfolio to 80 percent. The assembly hopes the increase will give them greater returns on money that they don’t think is earning as much as it could. – KB
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Amanda Hoover recieves the Student of the Year Award from Superintendent Jeff Thielbar. —KE
Awards Night Recipients
Student of the Year: Amanda Hoover
Principal’s Award: Nick Ackerman
Victor Marshall Award for best G.P.A.: Rosalie Westfall
Athletes of the Year: Rori Leaverton, Danny Moore
George Thiel Memorial for Best Student Athlete: Amanda Hoover
Don Hather Wall of Fame: Bill Hunz
Basketball Girls: Most Improved : Jade Cook; MVP: Rori Leaveron
Basketball Boys: Most Improved: Arik Cochran; MVP: Arik Cochran
Girls Volleyball: Most Improved: Amanda Hoover; MVP: Anna Korsmo, Rori Leaverton
Wrestling: Most Improved: Zack Wassman; MVP: Danny Moore
Track: MVP Girls: Rori Leaverton, Jayce Ellis; MVP Boys: Arick Cochran
Cross Country: MVP boys: Danny Moore; MVP girls: Rori Leaverton
Middle School Basketball: Most Improved: Nathaniel Leggett; MVP: Trevor Cox
Skagway team members Denver Evans, Kara Whitehead, Shane Sims, Madison Cox, and Danny Brady pose with their fellow Alaskans from Homer. Jeff Brady
Robotics team has great ‘egg-sperience’ at FLL North American Championship
CARLSBAD, CA – Skagway team “Egg-streme Egg-sperts” ventured to the FIRST LEGO League North American Championship last week at Legoland California. They represented Alaska along with Homer’s "Who's Your Llama?"
Neither Alaska team brought home awards but they felt they performed well. Skagway’s top robot score was 124, ten points shy of its season best. But other teams were scoring in the 200s with much faster robots.
The young Skagway team members – four of the five were rookies this year – said they learned a lot of “stuff” from watching other teams.
Teacher-coach Mary Thole praised the kids for their project, robot design and core values presentations and was impressed with the team’s professionalism.
They also had a lot of fun. When asked what they enjoyed most, members said, almost in unison, “The rides.”
They also were a hit with their Alaska pins provided by Rep. Bill Thomas, whose office they visited early in the season. The Skagway team exchanged pins with teams from all over North America.
The emcee for the event gushed when he received his Alaska pin after the team’s final robot mission in “the pit” before 250 screaming teams, parents and fans. – JB