July 13, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 12

Golden Flash Kicks Off 4th

Fireworks light up the sky above Skagway's harbor on the night of July 3 to begin the annual Fourth of July festivities. See more photos in our Fourth of July 2012 Slide Show.

Photo by Kile Brewer

Skagway ambulance crashes
on return from Yukon medevac
Two local EMTs seriously injured, flown to hospitals, reported in stable condition


A Skagway ambulance containing four responders crashed on the South Klondike Highway early Tuesday morning sending two volunteers to the hospital.
At around 1:30 a.m. the emergency vehicle touched the soft shoulder and lost control. When the driver tried to correct the vehicle, it tipped on the passenger side and went into the ditch, according to a statement from Skagway Fire Chief Jeremy Simmons.
The accident at Mile 39.5 opposite the Tutshi Lake boat ramp access road was discovered by a passing truck, and Carcross RCMP were notified at 3:07 a.m., according to a Yukon press release.
The two responders who were riding in the back of the vehicle, John Thomas and Haylie Whitaker, were the most seriously injured.
Skagway Volunteer Fire Dept. EMT John Thomas was airlifted to Skagway by a Yukon helicopter, and then transferred to a waiting Coast Guard helicopter that took him to Juneau. He was then flown by air ambulance on to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with multiple back injuries.
The other three were transported by ambulance to Dahl Memorial Clinic in Skagway. Whitaker sustained a leg fracture and was subsequently air medevaced to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau.
SVFD volunteer Matthew Russell and DMC nurse practitioner Kathy Sterner, who had been in the front of the vehicle, were treated for minor injuries at the Skagway clinic and released.
As of Wednesday morning, Thomas was at Harborview waiting on an MRI for further information.
At that time, his wife Shauna, in a phone interview, said her husband had two broken cervical vertebrae, the C5 and C7; several broken ribs on his lower right side; a fractured right scapula; a broken left eye socket; and bruising. She also said that he has a small subdural hematoma, a collection of blood on the surface of the brain, which does not appear to be progressing.
“He is in good spirits and anxious to get home to his girls,” Shauna said.

Skagway Ambulance 28 crashed at Mile 39.5 of the Klondike Highway early Tuesday morning. Former Skagway physician assistant Jim Frey, now of Eagle River, was camped nearby at the Tutshi Lake boat ramp but said he did not hear the accident, or he would have helped. He shot this photo just after the injured were transported to Skagway. Photo courtesy of Jim Frey

As of Wednesday, Whitaker was still at Bartlett Regional Hospital where she received surgery for a broken femur on Tuesday.
The Skagway ambulance, one of two in the community, had gone up the highway at about 11 p.m. Monday to transfer a patient to a Yukon ambulance crew. Haines Fire Dept. is loaning Skagway an ambulance while the second ambulance remains down, Simmons noted.

UPDATE: Thomas was released from the hospital on July 13 and was due back in Skagway some time the following week.

Tidelands amendment goes to assembly vote July 19; proposed post-2023 AIDEA lease under review


The Skagway Borough Assembly will be voting on an amendment to the 1968 tidelands lease, which, if passed, will allow the Municipality of Skagway to take back undeveloped waterfront from White Pass and Yukon Route Railway.
The undeveloped land is mostly submerged and located just south of Skagway’s Ore Terminal.
Mayor Stan Selmer said the surrendered land could potentially be used as part of the Gateway Project, adding that he thinks it will be built up to use for a dock.
Vice Mayor Dan Henry started negotiations for the surrender of tidelands in February in meetings with White Pass president Eugene Hretzay and Rai Sahi, CEO of ClubLink, the parent company of the railway.
The two parties were unable to reach an agreement on surrender of any developed tidelands. White Pass will be able to maintain its current operations serving cruise ships, according to the amendment.
The lease amendment on undeveloped tidelands became public after a July 2 special meeting, and after five months of being discussed in executive sessions. It will be voted on in a July 19 regularly scheduled assembly meeting.
Assembly members discussed a proposed Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority lease in an executive session on July 12 during a special meeting after this issue went to press.
The lease, not yet seen by AIDEA, would allow AIDEA to use the Skagway Ore Terminal after the White Pass lease expires in 2023.
AIDEA Spokesman Karsten Rodvik said the lease is being developed at AIDEA’s request.
“It is important to be able to provide long-range certainty to Yukon mining operations that desire to use the Port of Skagway to export their product,” Karsten wrote in an e-mail. “These new mines have potential operating lives of more than 30 years, which requires that AIDEA's ore terminal be operational beyond 2023.”
Karsten also wrote that AIDEA cannot issue bonds to fund a significant investment into a Skagway Ore Terminal unless it has control over the asset over the term of the bonds, adding that AIDEA would not be able to issue a bond for 30 years when the current lease says they can only use the site for ten more years.

Devin Fairbanks sports his Marines T-shirt at the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay in June. KB 

Local man allowed to join U.S. Marine Corps after concussion roadblock bulldozed by Rep. Young


 Devin Fairbanks wants to be a Marine.
This has been his plan since 2009, during his junior year at Skagway High School when he first enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, but they wouldn’t take him until earlier this year.
“They were worried because I’d had a concussion,” Fairbanks said. “They thought I would have blackouts”
It all started the summer before his enlistment, when he was at a wrestling camp in Austria. Fairbanks took a fall, hitting the back of his head on a wood floor. The concussion that followed caused him to be disqualified upon enlisting; they were convinced it was too serious an injury to allow him to join up.
Fairbanks was certain he wasn’t going to live out his dream, that the Marines just weren’t going to take him; but after Skagway received a visit from Alaska Congressman Don Young, that all changed.
“While Don Young was here, (local resident) Kathy Hosford told him my story,” Fairbanks said. “She made sure I got to meet him.”
With Young on his side, Fairbanks’ paperwork was submitted to the Marine headquarters in Quantico, Va., and after review he was cleared for further examination that would determine whether or not his disqualification would be lifted.
In the months that followed, Fairbanks underwent tests and checkups. He was examined by a neurologist at the Anchorage base, and completed checkups at the Dahl Memorial Clinic. He completed every test they could throw at him, always keeping his head down and pushing forward with the hope of getting in.
Finally, this February, after about a year of waiting, the paperwork was filled out, and Fairbanks was finally a Marine. He leaves for training on September 24 and couldn’t be more excited.
“I like the mentality the Marine Corps seems to have,” Fairbanks said, “the physical aspects of them pushing you. I like being part of a team.”
Fairbanks will be forever grateful for the help he received from the congressman. It was a chance encounter that really turned out in his favor.
“Without Don Young’s help I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to go in,” Fairbanks said. “I can’t say enough how much I appreciate the help he gave to me.”

War roommates reunite after 43 years

More than 40 years after serving together in Vietnam, Army buddies Fred Hosford and Gary Johns were reunited when Johns and his wife drove from their Pennsylvania home to visit the Hosfords at the Chilkoot Trail Outpost. Hosford said he never forgot Johns telling him “Hos, one day I will come to Alaska and see God’s country.” At left: Hosford, left in both photos, and Johns return from Vietnam. Right: The men pose together during Johns’ visit to Alaska. – Kile Brewer 

Man arrested for stabbing coworker


A TEMSCO employee was arrested June 23 after stabbing a co-worker with a kitchen knife following an altercation.
At 1:13 a.m., a Skagway Police Department dispatcher received a call from TEMSCO employee Rodney Johnson, who asked that the police come to the TEMSCO hanger/housing on Alaska Street between 5th and 6th Avenues because his roommate Matthew Ainsley was causing a disturbance, stated an Alaska District Court charging document.
While Johnson was on the phone with the dispatcher, Ainsley allegedly picked a knife from a butcher block and stabbed Johnson in the left arm between the wrist and the elbow, the
According to the document, Johnson was taken to Dahl Memorial Clinic and flown to Juneau for further treatment with possible nerve and ligament damage.
Johnson told Skagway officers that Ainsley came home earlier, tipped over a table and said he wanted to leave Skagway. Johnson calmed Ainsley down and went to bed, but he heard noises in the TEMSCO hanger and found Ainsley throwing things around. He then called 911.
Matthew Ainsley was arrested by officer Brayton Long and was charged with a second-degree felony for assault. He was held in the Skagway jail but was transferred to Lemon Creek Correctional Facility in Juneau a few days after his arrest.
Ainsely was indicted by a Grand Jury in Juneau and is still being held at Lemon Creek Correctional Facility.

USPS Alaska manager visits Skagway PO


Following the placement of a negative spotlight on Skagway’s post office, United States Postal Service representatives from Anchorage traveled to Skagway to evaluate its current state.
USPS Alaska Manager Ron Haberman arrived in Skagway on June 28 at the request of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.
After visiting Skagway and hearing tales of residents not receiving mail for days, Murkowski urged Haberman to see first-hand how the lack of staffing at the post office is affecting residents. Edna Cockerham, USPS manager of post office operations, joined him.
Mayor Stan Selmer met with Haberman, Cockerham and retired USPS postmaster Wayne Selmer, for about an hour after he visited the post office and spoke with community members.
“Ron was quite concerned that two seated federal senators had made the Skagway post office national news,” said Mayor Stan Selmer. “There’s nothing more harmful than a spotlight on things that aren’t going well.”
During their visit, Haberman and Cockerham met with several Skagway residents to discuss post office issues.
“At Ron’s request, I put together a number of people in town he could interview about all things postal service,” Selmer said. “I compiled a list of those who had bad experiences, those who are heavy postal service users, and those who filed complaints with the Chamber of Commerce.”
Among those people was At the White House B&B owner Jan Tronrud.
“I found out in May that several pallets of parcel post were sitting in the (Alaska Marine Lines) yard for three weeks,” she said. “The post office was refusing delivery because it wasn’t authorized for overtime hours to pass the mail out.”
After a few days, when the mail still hadn’t been delivered, Tronrud said she told other residents to file complaints with the United States Post Office in Anchorage in order to affect change.
“The only way the post office will get overtime is if the wheel squeaks,” she said.
Eventually, Skagway postal workers were afforded overtime hours, and the mail was distributed.
When Haberman and Cockerham came to Skagway, Tronrud told him she called the Anchorage office to report concerns the day after she found out about the pallets with third class mail on them, but she did not receive a call back.
“(Haberman) seemed very concerned about that,” she said. “He said that was not the protocol.”
But even after she discussed this issue with them, she didn’t think they understood exactly what she was saying.
“His response centered around the weekend that two people walked out, and how they fixed that problem,” she said adding that the third class mail on the pallets and the postal workers quitting were two separate incidents.
To make sure Haberman fully understood what she was talking about, Tronrud sent him a follow up letter.
“I haven’t heard back from him, but I didn’t expect a response,” she said adding that her letter didn’t ask for or warrant a response.
Tronrud said she didn’t feel the effects of the post office issues personally, as she doesn’t order prescriptions from out of town or a heavy volume of mail.
“A lot of people will accept unacceptable behavior and not complain,” she said. “So I felt called to go out on a limb for them.”
Now that there is a “microscope on the post office,” Tronrud said she expects conditions to improve, adding that she is thankful that service at the counter has gotten better.
Tronrud said she thinks residents need to take dwindling revenue into consideration when thinking about postal service.
“It is dramatically different from how it was 20 years ago,” she said. “They don’t have the funds to provide service like they used to.”
After speaking to residents, Haberman assured Selmer that all concerns were heard and that he will be working with Skagway Post Master Donna McMullin to better the post office.
“I thought his trip was a positive step in restoring the post office to what Skagway needs it to be,” Selmer said. “Ron assured me that he will be following up in Skagway through me or some of the people he spoke to when he was here.”
Haberman declined a request for an interview when he was in town.
After Haberman’s visit, the U.S. Postal Service posted an ad looking for postal support employees for the Skagway Post Office.
The postings are for non-career positions with various hours and scheduled days off. The job would pay $14.69 plus a 25 percent Alaska cost of living adjustment. Limited benefits include raises, paid vacation days and access to health insurance after the first 360-day appointment. The jobs are posted in this issue’s classifieds with postings closing later this month.

BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)

No change in ferry schedule
In a response to Mayor Stan Selmer’s recent letter asking for a change in the summer ferry schedule to add a Sunday ferry in upper Lynn Canal, Alaska Marine Highway System’s Capt. Mike Neussl said he is not considering changing anything at this time.
In his letter, Neussl wrote that hundreds of tickets have been purchased for the existing ferry routes and added that he is reluctant to change the schedule midseason.
“All the reservations would need to be changed, and there would be a disruption of passengers’ travel schedules,” Neussl said. “I’m not really inclined to do that right now.”
Neussl said he understood there would be a need for a Sunday ferry departure during summer weekends that bring high traffic volumes to the Upper Lynn Canal, so he incorporated a southbound Sunday ferry for the weekends of the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay, the Haines Brew Fest and the Klondike Road Relay.
Before this summer the M/V Malaspina docked overnight in Skagway, which allowed for an arrival and departure in Skagway every day. Neussl said he wouldn’t be opposed to changing the schedule back if it fixes the issues.
“As I stated publicly at the September MTAB (Marine Transportation Advisory Board) meeting, this is not a permanent schedule,” he wrote. “I am certainly willing to address your concerns and issues that became apparent after this schedule was fully implemented as we develop the summer 2013 schedule.”
Neussl said MTAB is currently working on the summer 2013 schedule and added the board has heard discontent with this summer’s schedule loud and clear from the communities of Haines and Skagway.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said of the 2013 ferry schedule. “Right now everything is on the table.”
The ad hoc marine transportation committee is preparing a response. – KE

School budget due date changed by assembly
The assembly unanimously passed an ordinance which will push the Skagway School budget due date forward by two months to April 15.
For the last two years, the school board was required to present its budget to the assembly on February 15, and Superintendent Jeff Thielbar wrote a letter to Mayor Stan Selmer to request a change for Fiscal Year 2013.
“To my understanding, the initial reasoning for the change was for the assembly to review and pass the budget prior to the state mandated teacher contract renewal date of March 15,” he wrote. “However, concern arose over passing the school budget prior to considering the municipality budget as a whole. Therefore, the assembly has not taken action on the budget for the school until the entire budget is able to be considered, usually in May.”
Thielbar wrote that while waiting until May to discuss the school budget is consistent with the municipality’s requirement to pass the school’s budget within 90 days of Feb. 15, it causes “undue rush and guess work on the part of the school district” in order for them to get the budget in so early.
“The change will allow Skagway School District more time to create the annual budget, establish better estimates of the budget requirements for the following fiscal year and provide a better product for the municipality to review,” Thielbar wrote.
The assembly voted to pass the ordinance without any discussion. The vote was 5-0. Assemblyman Tim Cochran was absent. – KE