June 8, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 10

Curves for the Cure

Participants travel along the winding Dyea Road during the 2012 Fran Delisle Breast Cancer Awareness walk on June 2. More than a hundred people completed the walk from the Chilkoot Trail Outpost to Skagway. For more pictures and the story, see Photo Feature link below.

Photo by Kile Brewer

Senator declares post office situation ‘intolerable’


After a visit last week filled with post office complaints, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on Monday directing the USPS to do more to fill the vacant positions at the Skagway Post Office.
On May 31, Murkowski attended a Skagway Chamber of Commerce luncheon, a roundtable discussion in the Skagway Borough Assembly chambers and a town reception at the Red Onion.
All three stops had a common theme: complaints about the local post office.
These complaints and concerns followed Murkowski more than 3,500 miles back to Washington D.C., where she issued a press release the following Monday.
In the letter to Donahoe that Murkowski sent from D.C. on June 4, she wrote that the lack of United States Postal Service staffing has had an intolerable impact on nearly everyone in the town, including the post office workers.
“Skagway has no pharmacy, so all medications are shipped to the community through the mail,” Murkowski wrote in the letter. “I am told that due to the current situation at the post office, medications have not been delivered in a timely manner. This has endangered residents with diabetes and heart issues, as well as others who require medication. This is unacceptable.”
In her letter, Murkowski also informed Donahoe that Skagway residents told her that mail is stacked up in the back of the post office and that recently the community has gone without mail for up to five days.
At the luncheon at Skagway’s Klondike Gold Dredge, Skagwegians started the Q&A period by asking questions about campaign funding, Murkowski’s write-in candidacy win in 2010 and the United States Congress. But after about 10 minutes, someone in the room mentioned the word “post office,” and that set the tone for the rest of the senator’s visit.
Murkowski was told that, as of late, there was only one worker in Skagway’s Post Office—Postmaster Donna McMullin.
Until last month there were three post office employees, but a few weeks ago, two of them quit because of moving and pregnancy respectively. Two other new local hires also quit.
Skagway Borough Assemblyman Tim Cochran attended the luncheon and led a lot of the post office information discussion.
“What they’re doing is taking postal workers from around the state and putting them in ours on loan,” Cochran said.
Betsy Albecker, whose family has been doing business in Skagway for more than 100 years, told Murkowski that businesses aren’t receiving their shipments on time, and Cochran told Murkowski that residents aren’t receiving medication on time.
“We don’t have a pharmacy here,” said Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer. “We had some residents going to the clinic to get emergency medication until they could get theirs even though their medication packages were in the back of the post office.
Most cities and municipalities in the United States have other ways of getting goods in and out, including FedEx and UPS, but Skagway has only one means of sending and receiving mail, USPS, and when the post office isn’t distributing mail, there is no other way of getting it or sending it.
While Skagway residents were still sharing their concerns about the PO at the luncheon, Bob Walsh, Murkowski’s Alaska field representative, called USPS Alaska District Manager Ron Haberman in Anchorage to inform him of the situation’s gravity.
Walsh told assembly and community members at a roundtable discussion with Murkowski that Haberman said he had just gotten out of a 30-day hospital stay and told Walsh he would send someone to assess Skagway’s postal issues.
But Walsh told him that wouldn’t do.
He suggested Haberman see first-hand what the lack of staffing is doing to the Municipality of Skagway.
After the roundtable discussion in assembly chambers, Mayor Stan Selmer accompanied Bob Walsh and Skagway lobbyist John Walsh to the post office
“Donna closed the post office and talked about her wants and needs,” Selmer said. “She takes no pleasure in how the post office is run.”
Selmer said he has been working with McMullin for several weeks in hopes of coming to a solution that will fix the post office staffing crisis.
“She is asking for help, and she feels as if she is not being heard,” Selmer said.
Following Walsh’s call to Haberman and Murkowski’s letter to Donahoe, the Skagway Post Office has seen emergency help in its windows. Haberman also sent Edna Cockerham, manager of Alaska post office operations in Anchorage, to Skagway.
Because Murkowski knows the post office has had a staffing problem for quite some time, she had one of her staff check to see what the status of the post office was before arriving in Skagway.
“My note said, ‘it’s all fixed,’ ” she said. “And clearly that’s not the message that’s coming out of Skagway.”
On June 5 in a YouTube video message, the senator said she had created an e-mail address where Skagway residents can share their experiences or concerns.
Anyone who would like to weigh in on the post office issue can contact her at Skagway@Murkowski.Senate.Gov.

Top, Sen. Lisa Murkowski meets with local residents, and bottom, makes a point in an interview with local media. Photos by Kile Brewer

Borough now courting Western Copper


After a May 31 executive session, the Skagway Borough Assembly gave direction to Borough Manager Tom Smith to invite Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority director Jim Hemsath to a meeting with Western Copper on June 14.
“We want to meet with Western Copper and AIDEA to discuss their needs and our visions and to give reassurance we’re moving in directions to get a project underway in the near future,” said Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer.
Smith said Western Copper, owners of the Casino prospect have a substantial mine with a long life, and the company is really serious about using Skagway as a port. The borough wanted a potentially big player in Skagway’s ore shipping industry to weigh in on what it wants to see and to have the opportunity to ask questions.
“They are located in western Yukon,” Smith said, “So Skagway would be more geographically friendly for shipping their product because of proximity.”
Smith added that eastern Yukon proximity of Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. might eventually make Skagway an undesirable location for shipping. The company has been looking at Stewart, BC as well.
Though the borough has confirmation that Selwyn has received the assembly’s recent letter regarding jobs and a possible port referendum in October, it is still waiting for an in-depth response from the company.
Selwyn had asked for a firm response by June 30 that Skagway’s Gateway Project aligns with the mining company’s ore shipping plans, but Selmer wrote that it would not be possible for them to get confirmation that quickly.
Also after the executive session, assembly members unanimously voted to forward a completed tidelands map to the borough attorney to include in the document facilitating the surrender of specified unimproved lands in the White Pass tidelands lease.
The borough is trying to recover more tidelands from the lease for a potential dock project.
The map was created from a series of informal meetings, and started as a drawing on the back of a napkin by Assemblyman Tim Cochran, Selmer said.
All agreements having to do with tidelands, ore companies and AIDEA would need the approval of Skagway voters in the regularly scheduled October election.

Planned code changes may tighten RV regulations


Recreational vehicles might see tighter regulations once new code language is brought to the assembly.
Due to seasonal residents dodging borough code and RV parks, the assembly will possibly be making changes to the code that would limit use of an RV parked on private property to a maximum of three days with permit required. Any stay longer than that will require the camper to be moved to an RV park, according to code changes being written by permitting official, David Van Horn.
Though this may seem like a short amount of time, the Skagway Public Works Department thinks that this will end any hope for abusing city code. RV campers will be limited to three of these temporary passes per calendar year, Van Horn said.
“We’re just looking for a way to enforce the code,” Van Horn said. With the current system there isn’t much the city can do to stop suspected illegal RV housing.
In addition to the aforementioned code changes, there will also be restrictions added concerning the storage of RVs, further preventing unauthorized RV living.
At a special meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission on May 29, commissioners sought to prohibit propane and sewage from being hooked up to their stored RVs, with exceptions made for regular, temporary maintenance.
“I’ve looked for a reason someone would need propane hooked up while storing an RV,” Van Horn said, “so far I haven’t found anything.”
Commissioners hope this will help to prevent any “under the radar” squatters from using stored RVs as free housing in Skagway.
Along with the restrictions to privately owned RVs, commissioners wanted to further promote small, locally owned RV parks by prohibiting use of the Seven Pastures area for RVs, except for circumstances where all the RV parks in town are already at capacity.
Commissioners stated that access to Seven Pastures shouldn't harm local business.
Van Horn’s changes will be reviewed by commissioners at their June 14 meeting before passing them on to the assembly.

PHOTO FEATURE: Walk raises more than $9,000 for cancer detection tests

Screenwriter Scott Silver laughs as he gives his keynote speech for the North Words Writers Symposium at Poppies. Katie Emmets

Symposium showcases screenwriter

Faculty members inspire local middle school student


The third annual North Words Writers Symposium included panel discussions, train rides and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.
This year’s keynote speaker was Scott Silver, who wrote “8 Mile” and co-wrote “The Fighter,” which was nominated for best original screenplay.
Right now, Silver is adapting “The Floor of Heaven,” a gold rush book by last year’s symposium keynote speaker, Howard Blum.
Since getting the contract for the adaptation, Silver has been in contact with local publisher Jeff Brady to check facts and ask historical questions.
Brady and symposium co-founder Buckwheat Donahue thought it would be a great idea if Silver came from his home in New York City to see Skagway up close, so Donahue invited him to be the keynote speaker.
And he came – with his wife, stepson and daughter, who enjoyed Skagway streets and played with husky puppies on the Denver Glacier.
Although he was already adapting another book for the silver screen at the time “The Floor of Heaven” contract became available, Silver said he fought hard to get it.
“I thought it was great,” Silver said of Blum’s book, adding that his adaptation will be nothing like it.
“There will be some similarities,” he said. “But when I read it, I found certain things I really liked that I am going to expand on.”
Although it was great to be in Skagway this year, Silver said, he wished it was 1898 so he could interview the men who he will be writing about: cowboy turned Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo, Jefferson R. “Soapy” Smith, and, to a lesser extent, George Carmack.
“I can’t make up things,” Silver said. “I have friends who can make up characters from their heads, but I can’t. I like being able to talk to people when I’m creating a character about them.”
Because he can’t talk to Siringo or Smith, he uses music as an avenue to get into each character’s head.
In his iPod, the characters have their own playlists filled with music that reminds Silver of what he thinks they’re like.
“For Soapy, I listen to a lot of the score from “There will be Blood,” he said. “And for Siringo, I listen to a lot of the “Assassination of Jessie James” soundtrack. Siringo also has a western vibe, so I’ve been watching a lot of “The Unforgiven.”

Left, Nick Jans laughs with Seth Kantner while reading notes left for them by fellow writers Kim Heacox and Deb Vanasse. - Kile Brewer Right, participants engage with writers during a panel session at AB Hall. - Jeff Brady

After giving his keynote speech at the banquet at Poppies on June 1, Silver asked faculty and participants if anyone had tips or opinions they wanted to share about his in-the-works adaptation of “The Floor of Heaven,” It opened up a more than 20-minute conversation about negative impressions of the book, mostly about the author’s lack of understanding of the north country.
“After his keynote speech, people were really slamming him for something someone else wrote,” Donahue said. “But he took control of what could have been a potentially dangerous conversation and turned it around.”
Donahue has since talked to several faculty members, and they have applauded Silver for asking for suggestions and sticking out criticisms.
“They said they have never seen a keynote speaker stand up and say ‘if there is anything you guys want to tell me about, go ahead,’ ” Donahue said. “Most speakers give their keynote speech and stand in line and shake everyone’s hand, but he stood in front of everyone and said ‘hit me with your best shot.’ ”
Donahue said he was very happy with this year’s symposium, and it has given him ideas for future ones.
“I think there should be more writing exercises,” he said. “And it would be nice to see a rotating campus.”
The North Words Writers Symposium has future plans to rotate between Skagway, Dawson and Denali, with a possible Dawson venue next year.
The symposium will also see a change in faculty.
“It’s nice to have continuity, so there will be a couple of the folks we had this year invited back,” Donahue said. “But we will be mixing up the faculty next year.”
For this year’s symposium, two scholarships were awarded to local writers Emily Willis and Denver Evans.
Thirteen-year-old Evans said she learned a lot during the panel discussions and thinks her writing has already improved.
“I write a lot about animals,” she said. “I learned not to drown the story in animals because it could be boring, so it’s a good idea to add a little human content.”
She said her favorite part was going to the Brady cabin in Dyea and hanging out with the writers. There, Evans was able to pass around copies of the story she is writing about a K9 police officer.
Those who read it said her story was good, but they didn’t have time to finish it.
“I have their e-mail addresses though, so I can send it to them,” she said.
Evans started writing her book in August and has completed five chapters of her intended 20.
She is excited to take the tips and tricks she learned from the faculty of Alaska authors and use them while finishing her book.

SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)

Lara Labesky gives the girls basketball MVP award to Rori Leaverton at the 2012 Skagway School Awards Night.
Katie Emmets

Labesky resigns as basketball coach after two state titles
Panther girl’s basketball coach Lara Labesky recently resigned after 10 years of coaching at Skagway School.
Labesky first started coaching the junior high team in 2000 and went on to coach girl’s varsity basketball a few years later. Along with Mark Jennings, Labesky co-coached them to two state titles in 2010 and 2011.
“I just kind of felt like I had done it long enough,” Labesky said. “It was a good long run.”
One reason for resigning, Labesky said, was she wasn’t able to travel much lately.
“I want to winter vacation somewhere other than Yakutat, Angoon and Hoonah,” she said with a laugh.
Before she found out there wouldn’t be a girl’s basketball team next year, Labesky said, she had already planned to resign.
“I decided maybe a couple years ago,” she said. “I just kind of picked a kid and said I will coach until they graduate. I wanted to get through the last Korsmo, so I said I will coach till Anna graduates.”
Labesky said she is thankful that the community was so supportive of her teams while she was coaching, and she is thankful for the girls and their hard work. She said she is also thankful for Jennings, who traveled with the girls to every game when she couldn’t get to most of them because of her work at the ferry terminal.

Fielding named new boys’ basketball coach
High school teacher Kent Fielding has accepted the position of Skagway School ‘s boys’ basketball coach, which means he will be coaching every season possible during the school year.
“Basketball is going to be a challenge, but I need a new challenge,” said Fielding, the track and cross-country coach, who teaches English and History. “It’s going to be a long year.”
Fielding said he was thinking about not continuing to coach track and cross country, but there are several students who are really good athletes, and he knows that if he doesn’t coach the teams, it is likely that no one else would, and the programs would cease to exist.
“I went on the basketball trip to Prince of Wales Island, and Mark [Jennings] and I were talking about it because he was pretty sure he was going to retire at that point,” Fielding said. “We talked about basketball and what we saw in the team, and he told me he would give me everything he had collected on coaching over the last few years.”
Fielding played basketball in high school against players who went on to play in college and all the way to the NBA.
He also announced a few games on KHNS this year.
Because it has been a long time since he’s played, Fielding said he needs to get reacquainted with the sport.
The team will be co-ed with Polly Brown being the only girl who has shown interest in joining the team so far.
“She does extremely well with men’s ball, so it could be exciting,” Fielding said, adding that the team will be small but decent.

O’Daniel accepts activities director position at school
Cindy O’Daniel has accepted the position of Skagway School’s activities director for the upcoming school year.
O’Daniel said it made sense for her to take the position because she loves being involved with school activities, and as director of business services, she is already at the school every day.
Also, O’Daniel has been a coach and a chaperone for sports teams during the past several school years, and is familiar with other activities directors and coaches in Southeast Alaska.
Becky Jensen resigned as activities director last month after the spring season.
“I enjoyed it, but it’s a lot of hours,” Jensen said. “I am ready to spend some time with my family.”
For the past two years, Jensen has worked full time at Alaska Marine Lines, had a cleaning contract with Skagway School, and was its activities director. On average, Jensen said she worked 11-hour days between her three jobs.
“Activities director is a lot of work,” she said. “I think it will do well back in the school full-time. I think Cindy will do a fabulous job with it.”
O’Daniel has already been working with Skagway Arts Council member Dottie DeMark in the planning of the 2013 Arts Fest, which will be held at Skagway School in April.