June 24, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 11
Skagway’s most prolific walker, Bud Matthews, gives Skagway’s fastest man, Quinn Weber, a wave on the Dyea Road during the inaugural Skagway Marathon. See story and more photos in Sports & Rec.
Skagway lets Selwyn pursue ore dock project; preference still ‘heritage site’
By MARK ABADI
With caution and concern, Skagway officials will entertain a Yukon mining company’s offer to build its own ore terminal at the mouth of the Skagway River, but the municipality’s preference remains the expansion of the current ore terminal.
In responding to the Selwyn Chihong Mining letter proposing a new terminal, the Skagway Borough Assembly invited the company to begin pursuing the project, but insisted the company open discussion with businesses that would be affected.
Selwyn’s Pacific Dock proposal presents an alternative to the expansion of the town’s already-standing ore terminal planned by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The expansion, on what is referred to as the “heritage site,” gained traction last month when AIDEA was given the authority to bond as much as $65 million for the project.
But Selwyn, who would be the main client of the expanded terminal, objected to the wharfage fees it would have to pay to use the Ore Dock, leading the company to propose the Selwyn Pacific Dock to the Assembly on June 1.
In a written response to Selwyn, the Assembly asked the company to open a dialogue and request feedback from businesses that would neighbor its proposed dock, namely Temsco Helicopters, Petro Marine Services and the Skagway Airport.
The terminal could potentially block Temsco’s flight path, base manager John Whedon said.
“Anything going forward on this project would have a large impact on the operation. We will certainly be involved,” Whedon said.
The borough, in its response, said Selwyn’s proposal was generally consistent with Skagway’s Port Development Plan, something Selwyn asked Skagway to determine in its June 1 letter.
“Let the guys at least do a little bit of research with this,” Assemblyman Tim Cochran said. “We’ll iron out the rest as time goes on.”
Selwyn’s timetable, which has construction on a terminal beginning next year and shipments of zinc and lead to begin in 2014, remains a concern for the assembly and residents.
But Mayor Tom Cochran said in the letter from the borough that Skagway “will not be encumbered by aggressive timelines that preclude public involvement and lead to irresponsible decisions.”
Paul Taylor, the local project manager for the Selwyn Pacific Dock, said Selwyn also prefers the heritage site, but will continue to push for its own terminal if the wharfage fee issue is not resolved. The White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, which holds the tidelands lease for the ore terminal and dock, began imposing the fees on AIDEA and the Minto Mine last fall.
White Pass president Eugene Hretzay declined to comment for this story. Last winter he said the parties would work it out.
He also would not comment on ongoing negotiations with the borough on an extended or revised tidelands lease.
Assemblyman Dan Henry, a member of the borough’s negotiating team, would not give details about a negotiation meeting between White Pass and municipal officials June 14, but said another meeting will be held before July 1.
With the town now having to weigh the benefits of two ore terminal options, Mayor Cochran reminded the assembly of the impact its decision could have.
“We’re looking at 60 kids in our school next year,” Cochran said. “We need another leg in. We need working class people getting them in that school.
“This is where it starts.”
Skagway’s Port Commission will hold a meeting with Taylor today at noon.
UPDATE: Progress has been reported during the negotiations and written proposals are due to be reviewed by the Borough Assembly and White Pass's board of directors in late July or early August. Watch for story in July 15 issue.
Public rejects stream-protection ordinance proposed by TIWC
P&Z will not support riparian zones along creek
By MARK ABADI
A proposed ordinance that would prevent landowners from building on up to 30 feet of their property was met with overwhelming disapproval from the public last week.
The ordinance, proposed by the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council, called for the establishment of 15-foot zones of natural vegetation surrounding all creeks and streams running through Skagway, including Pullen Creek and the Skagway River.
The areas of vegetation, known as riparian buffer zones, would maintain water quality, reduce erosion and improve the habitat of fish and wildlife.
But at a June 16 Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, several Skagway residents spoke in opposition to the ordinance because of the limitations it would impose on property owners, who would not be allowed to build new structures within the buffer zones.
“Establishing zones of this nature appears to be a taking of property without compensation and should not be tolerated,” said Stan Selmer, a fisherman and former Skagway mayor.
Under the draft ordinance, structures already built within the buffer zones would be allowed to stay there, but significantly changing them or building new ones entirely would be prohibited — “Taking our futures away,” as resident Tony Kosters put it.
Watershed council president Mark Larsen, one of the few supporters of the ordinance who spoke, argued that the buffer zones, uncluttered by buildings, would make properties more attractive.
“The aesthetically pleasing aspect of it enhances property values as opposed to decreasing them,” Larsen said. “Part of the reason Skagway is as nice a place as it is is because of the beauty of the creek.”
But after a brief discussion, the commission members agreed to recommend that the Skagway Borough Assembly not adopt the ordinance.
“I have huge concerns with the amount of property the individual property owners would lose,” said P&Z Commissioner John Briner.
The 15-foot setback was the smallest possible buffer zone that would still benefit the streams, said TIWC executive director A.J. Conley. The ordinance, which Conley wrote, also called for 50-foot buffer zones in minimally developed areas such as the West Creek watershed and Dyea.
Several residents at the meeting said they maintain the sections of the streams that run through their property, and that it is common sense not to build so close to a body of water.
“I’d say it’s common sense,” Conley said in an interview. “But that doesn’t necessarily stop people.”
Skagway, Juneau now in same State House District
By KATIE EMMETS
As of a June 13 decision, the Municipality of Skagway is now in State House District 32, which includes downtown Juneau and Petersburg.
After the 2010 United States Census showed a significant loss of population in Southeast Alaska, a major redistricting of the region was required.
The census data came out on March 15, and the five-member redistricting board was required to have a first draft of a new districting plan for Alaska within 30 days.
After studying the numbers, the board realized there was barely enough population to support four districts in Southeast Alaska, let alone the five it has had for the last ten years.
“It’s tough to lose a district,” said board executive director Taylor Bickford. “It forced the board to look at Southeast very differently.”
Bickford said the board received proposal plans from both Juneau and Ketchikan, and two board members, Marie Greene and PeggyAnn McConnochie, traveled to about 10 Southeast communities including Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Haines and Petersburg to get a feel for the area. Early in the drafting process, the board attempted to place Skagway with Haines, however it had two requirements to meet.
Bickford said one of the obligations was to create a district that has a 30 to 35 percent Native American population that is 18 years old or older.
Bickford said the board was trying to keep the district that included Haines as the heavily represented Native district but when it added Skagway, the numbers were thrown off.
Also, no matter how they configured it, a district that included both Skagway and Haines would not meet the “one man, one vote” requirement.
In order to achieve the U.S. Constitutional principle of “one man, one vote,” the redistricting board divided Alaska’s total population by the number of Alaska districts. This number is roughly about how many residents each district should have.
Although the exact number came out to 17,755, Bickford said the district populations could be five percent over or five percent under that number if they had to be.
Despite Skagway’s several pleas for reconsideration, the redistricting board adopted its final plan, which places urban downtown Juneau and rural Skagway together.
Mayor Tom Cochran said the Skagway Borough Assembly is disappointed because the redistricting board did exactly what assembly members asked it not to.
“We produced a resolution that that stated we didn’t want to be lumped in with downtown Juneau,” Cochran said. “And then we did a joint resolution with Haines that said we wanted to be put together. Skagway should stay in a rural district.”
Cochran said several other attempts have been made to sway the board’s decision, including testifying at meetings and sending a letter of disapproval.
The population statistics for each of the new districts have yet to come out, but according to akredistrictingboard.com, the most current U.S. Census lists Juneau as having 31,275 residents, while Skagway has about three percent of that population with 920 residents.
Cochran said the assembly is fearful that the municipality won’t be represented well because the bulk of the district’s voters reside in downtown Juneau.
While the assembly has not received a response to any of its communication attempts, Cochran recognizes that the redistricting board members did the best they can with the information they received.
“The outcome is unfortunate, but at the same time, the redistricting board had one hell of a challenge,” he said. “There is no way they were going to please everyone. This time around it didn’t work out so well for us.”
The redistricting plan is expected to face a number of court challenges.
Jacob Tice, Alex King, Tyler Zelgart and John Thomas are happy and rowdy while riding the fourth leg of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay. See story and more photos in Sports & Rec. Katie Emmets
Assembly votes down ‘bicycle-friendly community’ application
By MARK ABADI
The Skagway Borough Assembly has turned down the chance to be named a bicycle-friendly community, leading some local bicyclists to question Skagway’s commitment to promoting bicycling around town.
At an Assembly meeting earlier this month, Dustin Craney offered to prepare an application for Skagway to be designated a bicycle-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Through its Bicycle Friendly America program, the organization recognizes towns across the country that support cycling.
But at the meeting, Mayor Tom Cochran turned down Craney’s offer to prepare the free application, citing heavy vehicle traffic as one of the reasons Skagway is not bicycle-friendly. The vote broke a 3-3 tie.
“The mayor kind of hit it on the head. We’re really not bike-friendly,” said Assemblyman Tim Cochran, who also voted against the application. “Not that we don’t want to be, but we don’t have the biking infrastructure in place right now.”
But Craney said applying, even if Skagway didn’t earn the recognition, would have allowed the town to learn how it could improve local cycling.
“That feedback would have been really valuable to the community,” Craney said. “There may have been some really easy things that we’re missing here that we’re not doing to help cyclists.”
Craney is the operations manager of Sockeye Cycle, but said he was speaking as a local bicycling advocate at the meeting.
Craney and Sockeye president Thom Ely will continue to push for the establishment of bicycle lanes on the Klondike Highway, something Ely said he has been bringing up since 1992.
Every day, Sockeye leads multiple bicycle tours from White Pass Summit back to Skagway, but cyclists are often forced to ride on the shoulder of the road.
And with the proposed expansion of Skagway’s ore terminal, dozens of ore trucks could be rolling down the highway every day, which Ely said increases the need for a widened highway with bicycle lanes.
Stronger support from the municipality, perhaps in the form of bicycle-friendly recognition, could lead to the state Department of Transportation funds necessary to finance such a project, Craney said.
“Being able to make that case, that it’s very much a multi-use road, that’s very much used by multiple user groups, there’s a greater chance of getting that DOT funding,” he said.
The assembly has petitioned DOT multiple times to add bicycle lanes on the Klondike Highway between Skagway and Liarsville.
Craney also suggested Skagway designate more off-road cycling trails and implement a Safe Routes to School program that encourages children to bicycle.
Last month, the American Association of Highway and Transportation approved the Klondike Highway as a U.S. Bicycle Route, a distinction Bob Laurie, state DOT bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said could help market Alaska as a bicycling destination.
Still, vehicle traffic may be so heavily ingrained in Skagway’s economy, from streetcar and bus tours to ore-shipping trucks, that the city’s full embrace of cycling could take a while.
“You can’t turn a 48-passenger Greyhound bus into 48 bicyclists,” Assemblyman Dan Henry said.
Now, in the middle of the surge in bicycling the city sees each summer, Craney said he would rather work with government than against it to make Skagway more bicycle-friendly.
“Whatever the solution’s going to be, I think we’re all looking to try to get to the same end goal of having a real comfortable community, where you can bike or drive a car or drive an ore truck or drive buses through it,” Craney said.
Above, bikes lined up on a rack at 2nd and Broadway during a weekday. Mark Abadi
New park superintendent drawn to Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
Mike Tranel has lived in Skagway just over a month, and he said he is very happy to be back in Alaska.
The new Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park superintendent said he has always considered Alaska home since living in the Anchorage area for about 15 years while working for the Denali National Park.
Just before taking the job at KGRNHP, however, Tranel had been working in Washington D.C. since 2008 as the assistant to the Alaska area regional director and represented all of Alaska’s national Parks.
“The people in Washington D.C., unless they’ve lived in Alaska, found it hard to understand the issues and the scale,” he said, adding that he acted as liaison between Alaska and Washington D.C. park officials.
“It was interesting for a couple years, but we never really adapted to it,” he said. “We are not city people.”
Tranel said he knew former KGRNHP superintendent Susan Boudreau while working in D.C. and was familiar with the caliber of her staff.
“I knew she had great people working for her,” he said. “And everybody has been doing a great job. We’re just building on success.”
Though still quite new, Tranel already has some plans in the works for the park.
Right now, he said the focus is on the new and improved junior ranger program, which is housed in The Pantheon located on 4th Avenue and Broadway Street.
“It’s a great program for kids,” he said.
Although the original intent for the program was to mainly serve the Disney Cruise line, he said other ships have taken an interest in it as well.
Although he thinks Dyea has a lot of potential for the park, he said there are some issues with the Tayia River washing artifacts away, and he plans to discuss this with park archeologists to reach a solution that will preserve as much as possible.
The park staff will also be taking a comprehensive look at the recently acquired buildings, such as Alaska’s first YMCA and the meat market both located on 5th Avenue and State Street, and deciding how these structures would best be used.
“We would like to share our ideas with the public and get some feedback,” he said.
Tranel said he has always been interested in the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush story since learning about it in middle school.
“It was the whole idea of exploration,” he said. “It wasn’t so much about getting the gold, but finding the gold – the adventure of it all.”
Since moving to Skagway, Tranel has been brushing up on the town’s rich Klondike Gold Rush history by reading the park’s management plan and its historic plan for the reconstruction of the historical buildings. He is also reading Pierre Burton’s book “Klondike,” as much as he can between starting his new job and taking care of two small children at home.
Tranel said one of his biggest attractions to Skagway came about because of his 3- and 4-year-old daughters, Olivia and Abigail.
“When you have kids that age, it’s really nice to be in a community where people know each other and support the school,” Tranel said.
Aside from spending time outside with his daughters whenever he can at parks and on swing sets, Tranel and his wife Mary Tidlow enjoy running the local trails together. Tidlow also works for the National Park Service, but her work is Internet based.
New Park Superintendent Mike Tranel presents Amanda McCutcheon with and award for five years of service to the National Park Service. Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
P&Z discusses conditional use permits
After members of the community had the opportunity to share opinions on the conditional use permit to sell alcohol, all members of Skagway’s Planning and Zoning Commission agreed that it would be best to keep the permitting process in place instead of doing away with it.
The conditional use permitting process, which was established in 1992, would give Skagway residents the opportunity to voice opinions and concerts about bar practices, however, it was ignored for more than 18 years until Borough Assemblyman Mike Korsmo stumbled upon it in the code this winter when owners of The Station applied for a duplicate liquor license.
Karl Klupar, owner of Skagway Inn, and Jim Sager, general manager of Westmark Inn Skagway, both asked for the conditional use permit to be taken out of the code.
In a letter addressed to the commission, Sager wrote that the current issue should not be about making existing bars and hotels acquire a conditional use permit, rather for the community to comment on proposed new businesses serving alcohol.
“I don’t believe the statutory intent of this ordinance was to give the community, P&Z or the Borough Assembly an opportunity to retroactively approve, disapprove or put conditions on a business that has been operating harmoniously within the environment for 24 years,” Sager’s letter states.
Sager continues to write that Westmark Inn Skagway has been operating two to three bars and restaurants since 1987.
“These establishments, when operating, have been licensed by the city, the State ABC board, the DEC and been held accountable to any and all other state and city laws and regulations,” he wrote. “It seems counter intuitive to me to now have to go back to P&Z and have to apply for a permit giving me permission to operate as I have been.”
John Tronrud was an assembly member in 1992 when the conditional use permit application was implemented in Skagway.
Tronrud said the permitting process gave an opportunity for those who owned properties near bars the opportunity to weigh in and give their testimony about bar operations.
Bars all promise to do things such as not stay open after a certain time or stop the indoor smoking, he said, but as the bars grow, things change and bar owners sometimes don’t keep their word.
“It’s not a perfect world, and there can be a lot of issues, especially when you throw in [drinking in the] early times of the day or night,” Tronrud said.
Tronrud also alluded to the fact that the ABC board catches visible issues, but maybe not every day problems like excessive noise or a patron being over served and stumbling home at 4 a.m. when people are trying to sleep.
All four P&Z commissioners members said they thought the conditional use permit should stay in the code.
P&Z Chair Matt Deach said the commission will continue to discuss the conditional use permitting process because it only includes the business general and historic districts and not the waterfront or industrial districts.
Several license holders will be going before the commission between now and October to obtaing their conditional use permits. – KE
SCHOOL REPORT (complete digest in print edition)
School gets new bus
After five years of not having an up-to-code vehicle to transport students, the Skagway School recently bought an activities bus that was driven up from Salt Lake City by Superintendent Jeffrie Thielbar.
The 2003, Collins style 15-passenger bus cost $25,000 and came out of the school’s FY 2011 operating budget.
The school’s current transportation vans have been outlawed by the state because they have the capability of rolling over easily, and although students have been traveling by SMART bus, Thielbar acknowledges the fact that SMART bus owner Stewart Brown should probably be using all of his vehicles for his business during spring and fall months when in-school time coincides with the cruise ship season.
“It just makes sense for the school to have at least one vehicle that safely transports students,” he said adding that the school board unanimously approved the bus purchase at a June 9 special meeting.
The board also unanimously approved Thielbar’s travel to pick up the bus iand drive it back to Skagway. When he was teaching in Wyoming,
I thought it would be good to save a few thousand dollars and drive the bus back myself. The board approved that unanimously as well.” - KE