July 26, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 13
Mary and Julius Thole make eye contact with a falcon during Junior Ranger Day on July 11. The event featured dancers, birds of prey and activities for children of all ages. See more on page 8 of our print edition.
Photo by Elise Giordano
Apollo MT still waiting on state license renewal
Airlift Northwest offers certified membership program for medevac coverage
By KATIE EMMETS
As of Wednesday, Apollo Medi Trans’s operating license was still inactive on the State of Alaska Division of Insurance website, and Skagway residents were still unable to renew their policies for coverage in the state of a medical emergency evacuation.
However, there may be some wiggle room.
When a year-long Apollo MT insurance plan ends, the policyholder has a 30-day grace period in which they will be covered if a medevac is needed, said Apollo MT Chief Financial Advisor Robert Bonestroo. This is included in every policy and still applies now. Bonestroo said the company is doing everything it can in order to get its license renewed in the State of Alaska.
“We haven’t heard back from the state in a little while,” he said. “But we’re trying to become compliant as soon as we can.”
Bonestroo said the lag time is the result of Apollo MT not renewing its license in a timely fashion.
While having an out-of-date license, the company continued to sell policies until the State Division of Insurance stepped in and told the company to stop.
“This has been going on since February,” Bonestroo said of the situation with the state.
Airlift Northwest executive director Chris Martin said her air ambulance company is still Apollo MTs preferred provider and all operations are normal.
“We have a good working relationship with Apollo, and we hope they are able to get their license renewed soon,” she said.
Martin said Airlift Northwest will continue to medevac patients from Skagway regardless of them having an insurance policy or not, but if they are not covered under an insurance plan, a medevac would cost the full amount.
For Skagway residents who are seeking coverage immediately and do not want to wait for Apollo MT to renew its license, Airlift Northwest offers a membership program that provides affordable cost medevacs to residents in Southeast Alaska communities. Unlike Apollo Medical Transport Association, a membership program that didn’t have the proper certification to operate in the State of Alaska, Airlift Northwest was licensed and certified in 2011 to operate in Southeast.
The rate is $99 per household per year for Southeast residents, but individuals seeking membership must have valid health insurance.
Skagway resident Jay McClendon’s Apollo MT insurance expired last month.
McClendon set his policy up so it would automatically renew itself when it expired, but when he checked on it a few weeks ago he found that was not the case. When he tried to renew his policy online, the website wouldn’t let him.
McClendon sent an e-mail to Apollo MT asking why he was having trouble renewing his policy, and he received a response from Bonestroo that said as soon as the state processes the renewal for Apollo MT’ insurance license, the company will continue to sell both renewal and new businesses policies.
“I know it’s frustrating,” Bonestroo wrote. “We have been doing everything we can to get this resolved with [the state], but to date we are still waiting on them to renew. We hope to have it resolved as soon as we can, but we have no timeline on when the state will finish.”
McClendon signed himself and his fiancé Crystal Ketterman up for Apollo MT insurance last June.
McClendon said he is considering a policy with Airlift Northwest’s membership program, as he doesn’t know when Apollo MT will be able to process his renewal; but because Ketterman doesn’t have a health insurance policy, she would not qualify for an Airlift Northwest membership.
McClendon and Ketterman are both volunteer firefighters for the Skagway Fire Department and know how common medevacs are in Skagway.
“I see medevacs all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t take a whole lot to need one.”
McClendon said the Alaska Marine Highway System and airplane companies wouldn’t let someone travel if they have any severe injuries.
“Legally they can’t let them on,” he said. “Even if it’s not life threatening — like a broken leg.”
McClendon said medevac flights are fairly common in the summer time and the EMTs average close to one per day.
Because he participates in extreme sports such as kite boarding and surfing in the summer and back country snowboarding in the winter, McClendon said there is a lot of potential for injury and he therefore wants to ensure he has medevac insurance so he doesn’t have to pay the full amount of the air ambulance service if anything were to happen.
“I’m going to keep trying, but it’s been a month that I’ve been trying to renew and six weeks since my coverage has ended,” he said. “I might go with Airlift Northwest and try to get Crystal signed up with Apollo once they come back on.”
The state Division of Insurance was contacted but has not provided the News an update on the status of Apollo MT’s license.
Skagway back in legislative district with Haines for 2014 state elections
By KATIE EMMETS
The Alaska Redistricting Board unanimously approved a 2013 Proclamation Plan that puts Skagway in House District 33 and Senate District Q with downtown Juneau and Haines.
Last year, Skagway and Haines were separated when Skagway was placed in a district with downtown Juneau and Petersburg.
Mayor Stan Selmer said he is happy Skagway is grouped with Haines again.
“We have more in common with Haines than with any other city in the state,” Selmer said. “They are our closest neighbor, and we have a history of going to each other’s aid in times of emergency.”
Selmer also cited a shared tourism economy as a commonality.
“Haines gets a lot of tourism from Skagway and we get some tourism from Haines, “ he said. “We play off of each other’s venues.”
Selmer said that while tourists can go on a narrow-gauge railroad and helicopter to a sled dog camp in Skagway, they can learn more about the Tlingit culture and go to the bald eagle preserve in Haines.
“The economies of the two towns benefit from their geographical placement on the earth,” Selmer said.
Last election was the first time in the recent past in which Skagway and Haines were not in the same district.
After redistricting following the 2010 census, Skagway was placed with downtown Juneau and Petersburg, while Haines and other rural communities were grouped with Sitka.
The municipality discussed the possibility of suing the state in order to be redistricted with Haines, but decided not to take it that far. The Alaska Redistricting Board’s original plan for the 2012 election was eventually challenged in court by others, resulting in an order to redraw the boundaries in time for the 2014 election.
“It’s not that I didn’t like the representation we received,” Selmer said. “I just missed the representation of my good friend, Bill Thomas.”
Thomas, a life-long Haines resident, represented Skagway from 2005 to 2012 when he lost in his new distrct to newcomer 23-year-old Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka.
But Selmer said he was happy with the representation of Skagway from Senator Dennis Egan (D-Juneau) and Representative Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau) in the 2013 legislative session.
“They are both very good friends of Skagway,” he said.
Kerttula said she is happy about keeping Skagway in her district and gaining Haines.
“I feel really good about the district,” she said. “I love representing Skagway, and I have great relationships with the people there.”
Though she said she would miss representing Petersburg because of her love for its residents, Kerttula has been a life-long visitor of Haines and has good friends there she is looking forward to representing.
“The good thing about this, though, is maybe I will be the legislator who brings the communities of Southeast together, because I have represented most of them,” she said with a laugh.
Though the districts could still change, Kerttula said she is not going to worry about it while gearing up to run for re-election next year.
“We’ll see where the final boundary goes,” she said. “But until then I’m going to put my head down and work hard.”
The latest redistricting plan could be in court again, as there are challenges expected from the Fairbanks area.
Assembly supports ore terminal expansion, new mine using terminal
The Skagway Borough Assembly voted unanimously to sign a resolution in support of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s proposed expansion of the Skagway Ore Terminal storage building and the installation of a new user of the terminal.
“The long awaited magnetite haul is close to fruition and AIDEA needs a resolution of support from the assembly,” said Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer at the July 18 assembly meeting.
In a letter addressed to Selmer, AIDEA Deputy Director Jim Hemsath explained that the new user would be Eagle Whitehorse LLC, or a joint venture between Eagle Whitehorse LLC and Stragegic Minerals Plc.
“This new user is developing a project to extract magnetite from the existing mine tailings of the old Whitehorse Copper Mine,” Hemsath wrote. “The magnetite would be transported to the Skagway ore terminal by truck to be stockpiked and then shipped out over the ore dock by marine vessel.”
Hemsath wrote that AIDEA wants the municipality’s review and advice regarding the new user and the proposed expansion of the storage building.
Assemblyman Gary Hanson said he thinks it’s important that the assembly realizes there will be 30 trucks per day coming through Skagway from March to November for the next six years as part of the new ore haul. Hanson asked if the assembly would like to add a truck traveling time from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. from May 1- September 30 to the resolution. Selmer suggested they don’t add anything about truck regulations to the resolution because he doesn’t know what kind of leverage the municipality has on this magnetite haul.
Hanson said he would like Selmer to inquire about any concern from the Yukon Government over increased truck traffic and hours, and Selmer said he would ask around.
AIDEA has submitted the 35 percent Ore Terminal design development drawings, which were completed on April 29. — KE
Skagway hosts successful garden conference
By ELISE GIORDANO
Green thumbs of the Garden City were enlightened over the weekend during the Southeast Alaska Garden Conference hosted by the Skagway Garden Club.
The conference was held from July 19 -21 and featured a variety of speakers and workshops geared toward composting, weeding and gardening in general.
Charlotte Jewell, Skagway Garden Club founder and 2013 conference chair, said that about 60 people attended the conference.
“It was better than I could have asked for,” Jewell said.
Jeff Lowenfels of Anchorage acted as the keynote speaker and spoke about the importance of composting at Jewell Gardens on Sunday.
Lowenfels examined compost and various leaves underneath a digital microscope on loan from the Skagway School and projected the picture onto a TV for particpants to see.
Onlookers were able to view worms and springtails scurrying through the matter as well as view cell structure on the leaves.
The garden conference gave cause for Lowenfels to visit Skagway for the first time. He has promised to return.
“It’s a delightful place that I’ve always want to come to,” Lowenfels said. “Such a rich history.”
He said there isn’t much advice he can give to people who live in the Garden City, but did urge gardeners get rid of the Poor Man’s Orchid, as it is incredibly invasive.
“I just hope that people don’t compare my advice to the other Jeff that was here…” Lowenfels said. “Meaning Soapy.”
Dave Vogel exams a Russian kiwi branch at Jewell Gardens during the Garden Conference on Sunday. - Elise Giordano
Public Safety Building site selected
The Skagway Borough Assembly has decided to locate the new Public Safety Facility on 17th Avenueand State Street, making the site selection official during a vote on July 11. It will not shift to the Garden City RV Park land that is being acquired by the municipality.
The Public Safety Facility Committee met on July 16 to discuss the location as well as the status of its design.
Trish Sims, executive director of the Skagway Development Corporation, discussed possible loans and federal funding options.
They discussed a 30-year loan at a rate of 3.5 percent, and members of the committee suggested a one percent sales tax increase until the loan is paid off. The committee decided to create a public survey before the next meeting, asking residents whether they would prefer the committee seek a loan or a bond and what they think about the sales tax increase. They will be meeting again on August 29. – EG
Municipal candidate filing period opens Mon.
Up for Skagway Municipal election this year are the mayor seat, two assembly seats and one school board seat.
The mayor’s term is two years long and the assembly and school board terms are three years long. Stan Selmer currently occupies the mayor seat, and Mike Korsmo and Paul Reichert occupy the two assembly seats. Darren Belisle occupies the school board seat.
Any person qualified to vote in Skagway borough elections can run as a candidate for any borough elective office.
Those who are interested can file a declaration of candidacy with Borough Clerk Emily Deach between 8 a.m. on Monday July 29 and 5 p.m. on Monday August 12.
The election will be held on Tuesday, October 1. – KE
Solid Waste Advisory Committee forms; recycled purchase policy adopted
The Skagway Borough Assembly recently passed the second reading of ordinance 13-18, establishing a Solid Waste Advisory Committee.
The committee will act as an advisory role to the assembly and the public works department regarding waste management policy, including recycling, collection and transfer stations.
The committee held its first meeting on July 17.
The committee discussed a solid waste and recycling request for proposal and what the consultation fee would be as to prices and options for sending trash and recyclables away – as well as what equipment would be provided, if provided at all.
They aim to have all trash taken, as well as cardboard, aluminum and white paper. All plastics would be comingled.
The price difference between the shipping of all products will also be discussed in the RFP.
The committee hopes the incinerator will not have to be used unless it’s completely necessary.
They are also planning on looking into the purchase of containers, which would be used to house sludge and medical waste.
They hope to make education material available so townspeople know what to recycle and what goes where.
The assembly also passed resolution 13-20R, approving a recycled products purchasing policy on July 18.
The policy will promote recycling and other waste diversion and reduction strategies and will also decrease the material disposed at the incinerator. – EG
Coughran happy to be back, makes changes for 2013-2014 school year
By KATIE EMMETS
After three years away, Josh Coughran has returned to Skagway School as superintendent.
The former Skagway teacher and coach was hired in April after Superintendent Jeff Thielbar turned in his resignation in February.
“I’m ecstatic to be back in Skagway,” Coughran said, adding that it’s the only place he wants to be. “The community has welcomed me with open arms.”
Coughran said he is excited to work with school board members whose goals of communication and parent involvement mirror his own.
It’s hard to say what major changes have occurred within the school walls while he was away, Coughran said, but the biggest difference he’s noted so far are the upgrades in technology.
“What the borough has graciously given us in the way of a technology budget will allow us to do some cutting edge things,” he said.
One change regarding technology that Coughran has made since he became superintendent is to offer robotics as an academic course for high school students instead of an extracurricular activity.
“This program has really taken off and become a source of pride for the community,” he said. “It allows a chance for kids to do something academic in a competition arena.”
Coughran said he doesn’t want students to have to choose between robotics and sports if they want to do both.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in a lot of places.”
Skagway School will be buying a robotics curriculum for the course.
Another change at Skagway School will be the preschool program’s start date of August 15 — the start date for kindergarten through 12th grades.
Though preschool usually begins in October, teacher Courtney Mason has a full school year contract as a full-time teacher. Mason will be teaching preschool for half of the day and will be assisting middle and high school students with academic decisions as the school guidance councelor for the other half.
The extended preschool program will give 3- and 4-year-olds exposure to the school, which will prepare them for kindergarten, Coughran said.
Skagway School to cook more food from scratch, updating kitchen
Skagway School is revamping its kitchen for more nutritional cooking in the upcoming school year.
The school board’s decision to move away from the National School Lunch Program a few months ago will allow for better nutrition in school lunches, said Skagway School superintendent Josh Coughran.
The National School Lunch Program, which is federally funded, requires schools to document and adhere to strict nutritional requirements. During a school board meeting earlier in the year, the board discussed the requirements with former food services manager Jeffrey Hitt who said the program didn’t allow her to cook meals as healthy as parents requested and required a lot of frozen food reheating.
Since lunches will now be cooked from scratch, the kitchen equipment at Skagway School must be up to code.
Coughran has been working with the Alaska State Fire Marshal’s office and health inspectors to determine what changes need to be made. It should be up and running by the first day of school.
Coughran said the stoves need to be moved around and the vent over the stoves needs to lead all the way to the outside.
Skagway School has received a $20,000 grant from the state of Alaska as part of the Nutritional Alaskan Foods in Schools pilot program to use toward Alaska grown produce, meat and fish.
The school has purchased beef from the interior, and halibut and salmon from Haines for the 2013-14 school year.
Hitt will not be returning as the food services manager, and the school is in the process of finding a new one. The posting closed on Tuesday. —KE