June 13, 2014 • Vol. XXXVII, No. 10
Showing Team Support
During the 19th annual Fran DeLisle Cancer Awareness Walk-a-thon, Tyson Ames, Tiffany Potter and their son Dane Ames show their support for local resident and family member Jan Tronrud, who is undergoing cancer treatments in Washington. See feature in this issue.
Photo by Aimee O'Connor
White Pass moves forward with spraying herbicide
Health concerns persist about chemicals being used
By AIMEE O’CONNOR
Last summer’s favorable weather combination was the perfect storm that created an influx of pesky weeds on the railroad’s tracks, says White Pass & Yukon Route president John Finlayson,
On May 21, the company released a statement informing the public that White Pass had plans to attack their weed problem by using herbicide, as the weeds are getting too abundant to control manually. The statement was made in response to KHNS Radio wanting to interview White Pass after Skagway Borough Assemblyman Gary Hanson inquired about the issue to Finlayson then and brought it up during a May assembly meeting.
For about 10 years, railroad track inspectors have been removing weeds along the tracks by using brush cutters and weed whackers.
But when there is an excessive amount of vegetation along the tracks, it obstructs visual inspection of the tracks, and the weeds retain moisture so that the tracks cannot form a solid base, which results in a compromised rail bed.
“The problem peaks during the summer months, when vegetation growth is explosive due to the daily 20 hours of sunlight,” writes Jo Strang, former chief safety officer at the Federal Railroad Administration.
It is an FRA requirement of railroads to maintain neat and tidy tracks, free of vegetation.
After collaborating with regulators in Alaska, Yukon and BC, White Pass has decided to employ DBI Services Inc. of Portland, Oregon to spray one application of herbicide to the weeds this summer.
“We don’t have the capacity to try out different methods and products, so we asked bigger railways what they use,” says Mark Taylor, superintendent of rail operations at WPYR.
The products, Monsanto’s Aquamaster and Oust by Dupont, are the same that the Alaska Railroad Corporation stated they use in an integrated pest management plan, which was released to the public.
As a private company, White Pass is not required to adhere to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s “permit by rule” system that requires agencies to publish plans of herbicide applications. However, the corporation does feel a moral responsibility to the environment, Finlayson said, and wants to ensure that the chemicals used are up to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards.
As for the herbicide the railroad used when it sprayed the tracks last, “We hardly know what we used 10 years ago,” Taylor said.
Concerns from Skagway citizens were heard at the borough assembly meeting, where Hanson pointed out that just last year, the assembly spoke against using herbicide along the Klondike Highway and Dyea Road.
Finlayson and Taylor are firm in believing that there is no evidence of negative impacts that will affect the residents of Skagway.
“We drink the water too,” says Finlayson.
The ingredient in Aquamaster is glyphosate, a chemical, which is currently under scrutiny. After 10,000 supporters of activist group Mom’s Across America rang the phones off the hook at the offices at the Environmental Protection Agency, they agreed to conduct a registration review of the chemical.
The mothers shared stories of parenting children who suffer from “threatening allergies, severe gastrointestinal problems, mysterious autism-spectrum disorders, and major nutritional deficiencies.” After having their families tested, the common link between the different cases was the presence of glyphosate in their drinking water, breast milk and in their children’s urine.
It will be decided this year whether to keep products with glyphosate on the market or not.
Trapping rules pass Assembly, but differences remain
By KATIE EMMETS
After a few major amendments, compromises and concessions, the Skagway Borough Assembly adopted an ordinance on June 5 that will, for the first time in Skagway’s history, regulate trapping within the municipality.
The adopted ordinance, which applies to all land within the Skagway Borough, outlines a list of regulations that trappers must abide by during trapping season from December through March.
With the adoption of the ordinance, tree traps that are generally used to catch marten are now prohibited within 50 feet of an established trail or road and must be placed five feet above the ground or snow. Leg-hold and other ground traps are now prohibited within an eighth of a mile from Mollie Walsh Park, Pullen Creek Park, Yakutania Point and Smuggler’s Cove, Seven Pastures, Dyea Point, Dyea Campground and Flats, and community cemeteries. They are also prohibited within one-eighth mile of the Lower Dewey Loop trails and one-eight mile of the first walkable mile of the AB Mountain trail. There are some exceptions to the rule, however, and leg-hold and other ground traps are allowed 150 feet away from any street or trail beginning at the West Creek Bridge and extending north and west to the borough boundary. Ground traps are also allowed 150 feet away from trails and roads a half a mile north of the Gold Rush Cemetery on the east side of the Skagway river.
Because of some confusion over what constitutes an established trail, the ordinance defines one as primary and marked and/or published as an established trail.
The ordinance on the table was one of two options the assembly could move forward with. Both drafts A and B were presented at a May 16 meeting and written by people who were passionate about the issue. Draft A was created by a resident who was in favor of stricter trapping laws, and draft B was created by a resident who was in favor of more lenient trapping laws.
The assembly in the May meeting voted to move forward with Draft A and use it as a starting point, but all members agreed it needed some more compromise in favor of trappers.
At the June 5 meeting, there were six amendments made to the Draft A proposed ordinance, and in the end it passed with a 5-1 vote. Assemblyman Tim Cochran voted against the ordinance.
While discussing the ordinance at the meeting, Cochran told fellow assembly members and a packed house that he’s lived most of his life in Skagway and has combed the areas around the Lower Dewey Lake and the AB Mountain trails and has never seen a trap nor heard of anyone’s pets getting caught in a trap.
Earlier in the meeting, however, after six months of the public and the assembly being under the assumption that there has never before been a safety incident involving trapping, Skagway resident Dennis Bousson said his dog was caught in trap in the West Creek Valley several years ago.
“It does happen,” he said. “But the trapper took great care to get the dog back to me.”
Cochran also mentioned that he felt making trapping rules more stringent was essentially taking away residents’ freedoms — individual freedoms he fought for in the military. Cochran also mentioned that he and other residents are worried about their rights slowly but surely being taken away from them and are wondering where the line will be drawn.
Because it was clear after “hear citizen’s present” part of the meeting that the two user groups — trappers and non-trappers — were still divided on the issue, Assemblyman Dan Henry recommended a decision not be made that night.
“It seems very evident to me that the community is extremely engaged in this whichever side you may be on,” he said. “And because of that I think it demonstrates that it’s an important decision.”
But when it was suggested the issue go back to the proverbial drawing board at a Civic Affairs Committee meeting or that the public gather 88 signatures to get a measure on the ballot during the October election, Assemblymen Gary Hanson said he thought the matter should be settled right then and there with some amendments to make regulations less restrictive and more appealing to those for trapping, and that the issue be put to bed.
“We’ve exhausted the committee route pretty well,” he said. “We have the power here to come up with a compromise.”
Hanson suggested most of the amendments made to the ordinance that shortened the length of area restricted to traps, including lessening the quarter-mile prohibition of ground traps off of established trails to a one-fourth mile prohibition.After a heated Historic District Commission appeal highlighted flaws in the commission’s application process, the Skagway Borough Assembly is taking a closer look into HDC operations in an attempt to streamline the timeframe it takes to make a decision.
On April 24, the Skagway Borough Assembly acting as the Board of Appeals unanimously upheld an HDC decision to not grant the application for an awning on Dennis and Nancy Corrington’s Alaskan Ivory II building.
Beginning in September, the application process took about seven months to complete, during which time there was miscommunication, missed communication and application items were missing.
The HDC ultimately denied the request because it was unclear if the awning would meet the 8-foot height requirement from the boardwalk. There were also awning measurements that didn’t add up.
No matter what the height was when it first went up, Dennis Corrington said the awning could be adjusted and raised up to the required 8 feet off the boardwalk, but HDC representatives said required drawing they submitted had awnings that were lower than 8 feet.
Toward the end of their discussion, Nancy Corrington told the Board of Appeals this was no longer about an awning, it was about the process, an abusive use of power and favoritism.
“Quite frankly, I don’t care if we get an awning or not,” she said. “It’s about having to go through this time after time after time.”
She went on to say HDC chair Su Rappleye interjected her personal opinion into her decision-making throughout the process saying that she didn’t agree with plans because she didn’t think they would look good.
“To me it’s a power trip and I think the assembly needs to do something about it and now before people start selling businesses,” Corrington said.
Assemblyman Gary Hanson was the HDC liaison to the assembly when the awning permit was submitted in September.
Hanson told other assembly members that the application was incomplete when it came to the table in October and was missing a fabric swatch of the awning material. Hanson went on to say the HDC didn’t make contact with the Corringtons till December.
Because of other complications such as the HDC calling the Corringtons’ St. Louis house instead of their cell phones when they were in Seattle during a January meeting, and a fabric swatch not being picked up from the post office by the permitting official in time for the February meeting, the communication between the two parties was put off till March – when the HDC denied the Corringtons’ application because there were too many unknown factors.
Assemblyman Jim Sager said he finds the process the Corringtons went through to be “atrocious.”
“This is a process that is clearly broken, and the subjective and arbitrary interpretation of code and enforcement is another issue we’ll have to talk about at a different time, but the commissioners were just doing the job they were taught to do, and the bottom line is they haven’t gotten what they asked for yet. At this time I don’t see how we can overturn their decision.”
The decision to uphold the HDC decision passed unanimously 5-0, with Assemblyman Dan Henry absent.
After the decision was made on the appeal, the board gave everyone in the audience a chance to speak.
Multiple residents and business owners took the stand and gave accounts of similar interactions with the HDC, which one person referred to as the “Hysterical District Commission.”
They also praised the husband and wife duo for doing a good job with their buildings and testified that they have seen a prejudice towards the Corringtons from the HDC.
Former Mayor Tom Cochran said he supports the couple and what they have done for the community.
“I sympathize with Dennis and Nancy,” he said. “They’ve had a target on their head for the last 20 years, which I’ve seen in many instances especially with the Historic District Commission.”
Cochran said the prejudice toward the couple inadvertently extended to local contractors that missed out on winter work because of delays in decisions from the HDC.
But during the appeal, HDC member Lacey Chandonnet said the decision not to allow them to construct an awning had nothing to do with prejudice.
As a business owner herself, Chandonnet said she wanted the Corringtons to be approved for the awning because it would help.
“Their buildings look great,” she said. “They’ve done a great job in the Historic District. The bottom line is we didn’t know if they awnings were going to be eight feet tall.”
She also reiterated that the 8-foot-tall height requirement was that of the municipality’s not the HDC.
In a separate interview, Rappleye said she had no prejudice toward the Corringtons, and echoed Chandonnet’s concerns about the application.
Other business owners, suggested the code should be a little less stringent, as tourists won’t know the difference between fonts and colors that were and were not available during the historic gold rush period.
After nearly three hours of discussion, Mayor Mark Schaefer decided it would be best to send the matter to the Civic Affairs Committee for further review.
Superintendent Mike Tranel of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park attended the meeting on May 14 to offer some opinions on how the application process could be improved.
Tranel said the park and muncipality are closely entwined, he wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Schaefer.
“In my observation, there are probably some changes needed to be made in the process,” he said.
Tranel noted that the HDC’s decisions are by and large part reversed by the Board of Appeals and the Corringtons’ request was the only decision upheld in his recent memory.
The other issue Tranel observed with the process is the length of time it takes to get through an application and suggested the HDC find better more effective ways to communicate with business owners about what is needed and what the expectations are regarding applications before they come to the HDC with incomplete applications.
Tranel suggested the HDC put the list of application requirements in plain language online so business owners know what to come to the meeting with when they are ready to move forward with their request. He also suggested they could complete the application online. He also said the municipality could produce a user-friendly, plain language code that could be drawn up by a historical architect, HDC members and the borough attorney.
Civic Affairs member and assemblyman Dan Henry said he doesn’t think a lack of understanding of the code is the problem.
“Looking at the code can be somewhat of a complex thing, but it’s really simple to take a look at the other buildings in the Historic District and know what you can and cannot do,” Henry said, adding that it’s clear a replica of Notre Dame couldn’t be constructed downtown.
Civic Affairs and assembly member Spencer Morgan sat on the Planning and Zoning Commission prior to becoming an elected official and is familiar with municipal codes and the application process.
Morgan suggested that the application process start with municipal permitting official David Van Horn “who knows the codes better than anyone.”
Business owners could sit down with Van Horn so he could give opinions and offer advice on what needs to be worked on before they submit their application to the HDC, he said adding that it would speed the application process up and could potentially result in an answer from the commission within two meetings.
West Creek MOU deferred after submission by AP&T
By KATIE EMMETS
Though Alaska Power & Telephone presented the Municipality of Skagway with a Memorandum of Understanding as part of moving forward with a potential West Creek hydro project, the Skagway Borough Assembly is not rushing to attach itself to the telephone company or the project.
Mayor Mark Schaefer said the MOU was drafted by AP&T after it filed for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission preliminary permit to study the area in hopes of determining project potential. AP&T officials have stated in the past that they filed for the permit on behalf of the municipality, so no one else could file and gain access to the area for the next tree years.
“From my standpoint, we’re still in this single stage,” Schaefer said. “There are some people that are thinking it’s being carried pretty far forward, but I think we’re still doing the same thing we said we’re doing that the public said was ok, and that’s just to study this.”
Schaefer said the project, if created, wouldn’t be a quick one and would probably be studied for at least five years before construction.
“There’s nothing that’s going to be built by anybody unless this community says so,” he said. “It’s our property, and its definitely going to have to go before the people. There’s nothing that’s going to happen in a rush.”
Schaefer said the only ways the creation of a hydro project will happen is if the project is viable, if it has community support, and if it belongs to the Municipality of Skagway.
“We’re talking about a large amount of money, and it’s not something we’re going to charge the taxpayers with,” he said. “It’s something were going to be looking for money for.”
Though it would be a municipal project, Schaefer recognizes AP&T would have to be involved in some capacity and understands the company might play a role in the creation.
“Somewhere they have to be involved because they own the distribution, but that could be the extent of it,” he said. “They could be used to partner with to help build and operate it, but as far as ownership, if it happens at all, I don’t thing AP&T can sell this project in the community. If it’s going to happen at all it’s going to belong to the Municipality of Skagway to benefit the citizens.”
If the MOU with AP&T is signed, Schaefer said the only financial obligation to the project would be the one already in play, which was a $100,000 cost for stream gauging.
“Does this commit us to anything more with AP&T? I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think they can force us to spend any money.”
Borough Manager Scott Hahn said agrees with Scahefer about having no further financial obligation at this point if the MOU is signed, and he told the assembly the MOU was on the June 4 agenda for discussion and input only.
“We weren’t bringing this back for any kind of approval because we’re still in negotiation, but it was for you guys to give us some feedback,” he said. “And I think we don’t have a financial commitment here.”
Assemblyman Gary Hanson said he questions why an MOU is needed just to study.
“Studies also cost money, and I’m kind of leery of getting too involved in this project until we get a better feel from the community on where they stand on it,” Hanson said.
Hanson said last year, when former mayor Stan Selmer brought up the stream gauging and the assembly decided to spend $100,000 on studying the flow of West Creek, he questioned the amount of money because he’s not sure the municipality needs the large project, which is how it’s outlined in the FERC permit AP&T filed.
“I said can we also look at it as a smaller project that would take Skagway and Haines, our grid, off diesel completely and just keep it in reason for what we need, and Stan said ‘sure, we could do that, too’,” Hanson said. “But all we’re studying, it looks like, is this major project.”
Schaefer assured the municipality is still just studying the stream, but AP&T might have other plans.
Dyea resident Dennis Bousson asked that all parties “slow down” with the project and make it more a of public process, while Bruce Weber asked for a public vote, and Eric Hosford spoke out against a dam on West Creek. In a letter to the assembly, West Creek residents Dorothy and Jeff Brady urged against passage of an MOU because the community had only supported moving forward with a feasibility study at this time.
Hahn said even if AP&T pursues the study or the project, he is under the impression that the company doesn’t have the funds right now to do so.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to play out; we’re just trying to establish the players,” he said. “We’re not making a financial commitment, but we’re trying to establish our business relationship in the model that we best think will cause this to be a success. We couldn’t go about it any other way. We can’t go at it like we’re going to fail, right? We’re going to do this thing, we’ve got to find a model that works.”
Hahn said the municipality and the borough need to see eye-to-eye on this project and figure out the best way to continue forward.
Hahn also added that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service are interested in studying the area and establishing some of the stream flow in the area and are willing to put a value of up to $300,000.
Schaefer said NOAA wants to study not only what’s coming out of West Creek, but also what’s coming out of the Nourse River, which is in an area that has a lot of potential for a glacial burst.
“If there is another glacial outburst from the Nourse, that’s a major disaster that will make the West Creek glacial outburst look small,” he said.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said studying the Nourse Glacier moraine is a NPS process that has been ongoing.
“The main body of water at the top is about a quarter-mile wide and a half-mile long and about 160 feet deep,” he said. “If that hydraulic action does go and release . . . ”
The assembly gave no objection to NOAA and NPS studying water flow in the area and agreed that it would add to the current study for no additional cost to the municipality.
NORTH WORDS SIGNS OFF WITH A KISS
APPLAUDING LAUREATE – Alaska Writer Laureate Nora Marks Dauenhauer receives a standing ovation from the North Words Writers Symposium group at the closing banquet and returns the honor with a kiss. See our North Words Writers Symposium 2014 Feature. Katie Emmets
Quake shakes and wakes residents
Skagway residents experienced the June 4 early-morning earthquake in different ways.
When the 5.7-magnitude quake started just before 4 a.m. some people slept through it, some jumped out of their beds and ran outside, and some people felt the rocking at a bar immediately following a toast to a good friend.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake’s epicenter was located about 50 miles southwest of Haines, a little more than 60 miles southwest of Skagway, and was felt by residents in Skagway, Haines, Juneau, Gustavus, and Whitehorse.
Though it was the biggest earthquake to hit this area in the recent past, there was little to no damage reported by businesses and residents.
White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Superintendent of Rail Operations Mark Taylor said White Pass has a specific protocol the company must adhere to after a seismic tremor.
Taylor said U.S. Geological Survey alerts White Pass after an earthquake occurs within several hundred miles of the railroad corridor.
“In the event of an earthquake, our Bridge Management Safety Program calls for a progressive response based upon the magnitude and epicenter,” he wrote in an e-mail. “For the great majority of low magnitude earthquakes, train operations are not typically impacted and maximum operating speed is maintained.”
After the June 4 earthquake, a hold was put on train traffic and bridge inspectors were on-track within the hour.
Taylor said a track car patrolled the entire system, and all bridges were thoroughly examined by qualified bridge inspectors. Inspectors found no damage and normal operations resumed.
Neither the Skagway Public Library nor the Skaguay News Depot had any books fly off their shelves, but the Fairway Market IGA did report a few salad dressings and plastic peanut butter jars on the floor when the maintenance worker arrived in the morning.
The reporter of this story did have a close call, however, and jumped up right before the lamp sitting above her bed fell onto her pillow.
The toast that had Skagwegians wondering if there was some sort of cosmic connection to the quake was for Cody Ellingson, a young man who had been fighting cancer and passed away just after midnight. – KATIE EMMETS
Local captain injured in Haines rollover
On May 24, Skagway resident Christian Racich was critically injured in an accident involving a dune buggy in Haines.
The 43-year-old was medevaced to Juneau and then to Harborview Medical in Seattle where he is being treated in the ICU for neck and lung trauma as well as numerous broken bones.
He has been a captain at Ocean Raft Alaska in Skagway for the past two seasons and a certified tour boat operator since 2003. Prior to that, he worked as a professional photographer.
According to an article in the May 29 Chilkat Valley News, he was in Haines helping at Beer Fest the weekend of the accident.
Realizing that Racich will be facing a large medical debt as a result of his accident, friends of his decided to be proactive and help raise money for him.
On June 7, Suzie Forrer-Teerlink created a fundraiser page on gofundme.com called “Christian’s Road to Recovery,” which had raised $8,500 as of Monday. The 79 donators were able to write personal words of encouragement to Racich, which Forrer-Teerlink believes will be good for Racich’s morale while in the hospital.
“Knowing Christian, I’m sure that he is humbled by it all,” she said.
In addition to the donations, Forrer-Teerlink is posting regular updates on Christian’s condition in the ICU. As of Sunday, Racich was still on the ventilator, but is making progress toward breathing on his own. – AIMEE O’CONNOR
Byron Mallot talks with Jan Wrentmore, Dennis Bousson and Lara Labesky at the RO. KE
Mallott returns to Skagway as candidate
By KATIE EMMETS
Byron Mallott came to Skagway and visited with friends from his childhood. While this is a normal activity for people all over, Mallott returned to a former home as an Alaska governor hopeful.
For two hours in the Bombay Room of the Red Onion, Skagway residents came in to say hello to an old friend, talk about issues that are close to their heart and show some support for a fellow Southeast resident.
Mallott was born and raised in Yakutat, but attended school in Skagway and the Pius X Mission for a few years. Since leaving, he said, he has stayed in touch with a few people including Andrew Beierly, who he considers to be part of his council.
At the age of 22, Mallott became mayor of Yakutat and later on became the mayor of Juneau. He served under Governor William Egan as Alaska’s first Department of Community and Regional Affairs Commissioner. From 1982-1992, he was the president and CEO of Sealaska and was also the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives. From 1995-2000 he was the chair and trustee of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.
During an interview, Mallott said his run for governor started before he even knew it.
“Late last year I got together with some friends and we started thinking about who we could find to run against (Governor Sean) Parnell to give Alaskans a choice,” he said. “People started to talk to me about running, and then they decided that person was going to be me.”
And Mallott has taken this new venture with conviction and is the leading Democrat in the race.
“My whole life has been about Alaska,” he said referencing his decades of public service experience.
Mallott said he thinks government has the obligation to reach out and embrace Alaskans.
“The government should never make arbitrary decisions that affect Alaskans,” he said. “They should have their voices heard so they believe they are part of the process and in turn respect the government.”
The state primary election will take place August 19, and there are eleven candidates including incumbent Sean Parnell, the leading Republican. The general election this year is on November 4.
Assembly OKs budget, Hanson votes no due to Chamber request
With a 5-1 vote, the Skagway Borough Assembly adopted a Fiscal Year 2015 budget totalling $32,929,281 with an operating budget of $12,916,543 and a capital expense budget of $20,012,738.
There are 45 total capital projects listed in the FY15 budget and some of them include: $21,060 for the relocation of the ARCS receiver, $78,000 for a small boat harbor maintenance building that’s under construction, $894,000 for the redwood water tank, and $1 million for Skagway Rec Center expansion.
The mill rates did not change despite additions and adjustments made over the course of the three readings.
Service Area I has a mill rate of 7, Service Area II has a mill rate of 5.78, Service Area III has a mill rate of 4.62, Service Area IV has a mill rate of 3.01, and Service Area V has a mill rate of 1.26 mills.
During the budget discussion, Assemblyman Gary Hanson questioned the $60,000 expense for the Skagway Chamber of Commerce.
“I was surprised that I haven’t heard any discussion from the assembly at all for the $60,000 for the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “For the benefit of the members that weren’t here for the last few years, this request has come in every single time and the assembly has had a problem with funding the Chamber because they are basically a politically active group on behalf of business.”
For the past several years the Skagway Chamber of Commerce has requested funding because its membership sales were down, and the organization didn’t have enough money to pay its office manager.
The assembly historically gives funding to the Chamber when it asks, but not always the full amount it requests.
“The Chamber does a lot of good things for this community, and I appreciate all they do, but I think were on a slippery slope when we start financing a group whose job it is to lobby the assembly – the government – in favor of a business.”
“I have a problem with it, but I’m willing to compromise on the total,” he said.
Hanson made the motion to change the $60,000 amount to $30,000, but there was no second. Hanson said he couldn’t vote in favor of the budget, and he didn’t. The budget passed with a 5-1 vote, with Hanson voting no. – KE
Fines to be given for unplanned Railroad Dock rock graffiti
Skagway residents interested in adding artwork to the rocks next to the Railroad Dock will now have to submit a picture of the proposed graffiti and get approval from the Skagway Borough Assembly before applying it.
Assembly members unanimously voted to pass an ordinance that states failure to do so would result in a civil fine.
Also voted to be subject to civil fines are the use and sale of fireworks, smoking in prohibited areas, and operating without a proper business license. – AO
NEW REP: Right, T Sam Kito III, Skagway’s new representative in the House, chats with local assemblyman Tim Cochran during a constituent meet and greet last week. Katie Emmets