July 27, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 13
Neyawynn Browne takes charge of her spaghetti noodles at an awards dinner held for the local Girl Scout troop by Elks Lodge 431. See more on page 4 of our print edition.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Skagway supports state in fight against ECA rules for ships
Objection notes costs very high to reduce smoke
By KILE BREWER
The Skagway Borough Assembly has voted to announce its opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s extension of the Emission
Control Area rule in Alaska.
After a statement from tour operator and Port Commissioner Steve Hites, and a statement of support from CVB director Buckwheat Donahue, a vote was called, and the result was unanimous. The assembly will join the state of Alaska in fighting the ECA, which they claim would increase costs of Alaska tourism and shipping.
“It takes years to get a cruise line and it takes a second to drive one away,” Hites said. “There are calculations that the ECA would cost
50 percent of Skagway’s traffic.”
The ECA, which goes into effect August 1, will force cruise ships to switch to one percent sulfur oxide fuel, which is a big change from the fuel used now, which is, on average, about 2.5 percent sulfur.
In 2015, that one percent will change to a 0.1 percent, something that even the EPA admits ships probably aren’t equipped for.
The main issue is that low-sulfur fuel is more expensive to burn and harder to get than the current fuels used by boats in Alaska.
“The 0.1-percent sulfur) fuel is not even available,” Hites said, “It would be a logistical nightmare.”
The rule would stretch 200 miles out from the coast and potentially hurt the economies of Southeast Alaska towns, affecting the ships that
deliver goods to Alaskans, as well as the cruise liners that fuel Alaskan tourism.
Differing reports state that the cost of an Alaska cruise could increase as much as $15 per person, per day, if not more. The assembly, and those reliant on cruise ship tourism, worry the potential increase in cruise tickets, as well as operating costs, will cause cruise lines to pull their Alaska ships altogether, resulting in an exponential decline in tourism profits.
The overall impact of the increased fuel costs would be a 29 percent decrease in cruise ship income in Alaska and Canada/New England, according to a report filed by the Cruise Lines International Association.
The report also mentions there could be an estimated loss of 2.2 million cruise ship passengers in the U.S. and Canada, with Alaska cruises representing about 60 percent of that loss. Also, an estimated $886 million in output and 9,433 jobs will be lost in the major ports from Seattle to Skagway, along with an increase in the cost of goods.
According to at least one assembly member, these predictions are accurate, Southeast Alaska could be changing drastically in years to come.
“We get our paychecks in five months, but we have to budget it for 12 months,” Assemblyman Dan Henry said.
The source of that five-month paycheck is tourism, and if the tourism leaves, so will the Southeast’s livelihood, critics claim.
However, the state of Alaska isn’t going down without a fight.
Earlier this month, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty filed a lawsuit against the EPA, Coast Guard and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, claiming that the ECA extension is unconstitutional, and the EPA and Coast Guard have no right to enforce it in Alaska.
Geraghty’s argument is that the EPA would need two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to approve the Alaska extension of the control area, which they don’t have, and which is required
by the Constitution under the Treaty Clause, which reads: “A treaty cannot bind the U.S., and is not enforceable as domestic law, unless two-thirds of the Senate give advice and consent to the treaty.”
The assembly members stated that they are following the lawsuit closely after announcing their objection.
The economic evidence may be damning, but, according to the EPA, the implementation of low-sulfur-diesel will reduce 86 percent of sulfur emissions, which would result in the loss of 920,000 tons of sulfur.
This is something the EPA thinks Americans should be interested in. EPA reports also say the air quality would not only be improved at the ports and along the coast, but as far as 100 miles inland, covering the emission-drift that occurs when large ships travel along the coast.
The EPA stated that the extension inland would prevent approximately 14,000 premature deaths by 2020, and relieve respiratory problems of as many as 5 million people each year after its implementation. It could also save as much as $110 billion in medical costs by the start of the next decade, according to an EPA report.
While the ECA would improve both air quality and the health of those living in a 100 mile radius of the coast, at the same time, assembly members are concerned about it driving up the cost of shipping, and, in turn, the price of goods and cruise tickets, hurting tourism and increasing the cost of living.
Ambulance crash aftermath
Victims return to their homes, thankful for surviving early morning accident
By KATIE EMMETS and KILE BREWER
A Klondike Highway accident involving a Skagway ambulance and four local volunteers is still under investigation two weeks following the crash.
Meanwhile, the accident victims are out of the hospital and at home recovering from their serious injuries.
On the early morning of July 10, a Skagway Volunteer Fire Department ambulance touched the soft shoulder at 39.5 Mile opposite the Tutshi Lake boat launch and dropped about six feet down from the road, taking with it Skagway volunteer emergency responders Matthew Russell and Haylie Whitaker, Nurse Practitioner Kathy Sterner and Skagway EMT John Thomas.
Russell was driving the ambulance, Sterner was in the passenger seat, and Whitaker and Thomas were riding in the back of the vehicle.
At the time of the crash, the volunteers were returning to Skagway after transporting a patient to Carcross.
Since then, many people have speculated on the cause of the accident.
“I have some investigating to do as well,” said Skagway Fire Chief Jeremy Simmons of the accidents details. “But there was no indication from (Russell or Sterner) that Matt had fallen asleep.”
Simmons said Russell and Sterner were having a conversation about a minute before the accident happened.
After the accident, Russell told Simmons that it was dark and overcast at the time of the accident, but that visibility was fairly good.
After leaving the roadway, the ambulance rolled on its side, with the driver’s side facing up.
Immediately after the crash, Simmons said, Russell tried to call for help over the radio by sending out a distress signal. He was unable to get one right away, so he asked Sterner if she would continue the call for help while he climbed out the driver’s side door to go check on Thomas and Whitaker.
“When he opened the back door and saw the condition they were in, he called to Kathy for help,” Simmons said. “And Kathy crawled into the back through a window between the front and the back of the ambulance.”
Sterner was only able to help Thomas and Whitaker minimally for fear of shifting their positions too much, the chief added.
“In an accident, the first thing that needs to be done is to stabilize everyone,” Simmons said. “She did what she could, but she couldn’t do too much.”
According to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police release, Carcross RCMP received a report at about 2 a.m. Alaska time of a serious accident on the South Klondike Highway.
Thomas was transferred by helicopter from the scene of the accident to Skagway, where he was transferred to a waiting United States Coast Guard helicopter to take him to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau. He was then transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Thomas received multiple injuries, including two broken cervical vertebrae, broken ribs and a broken left eye socket.
But he was out of the hospital by the night of July 12 and was able to spend a few days at Steve and Gayla Hites’ Redmond, Wash. home until he was ready to return home to Skagway.
“John is doing great,” his wife Shauna said. “His final prognosis is that he should regain all of his motor function. He has had a positive outlook and is getting better everyday.”
She said her husband will wait for his neck to heal, and then after some physical therapy, he should be back to normal.
“His pain is minimal,” she said. “And he will have a follow-up in Seattle in six weeks where I’m sure he’ll be asking when he can play hockey again.”
Whitaker, Russell and Sterner were driven back from the accident in an ambulance, which brought them to the Dahl Memorial Clinic for further assessment.
Russell and Sterner were released immediately following assessment, and Whitaker was medevaced to Bartlett Regional Hospital where she received surgery for a broken femur. She is now recovering at her home in Utah.
“We are thankful that everyone who was injured is progressing with their injuries and getting better,” Simmons said. “We’ve been getting a lot of questions about how everyone is doing.”
Since the crash, the Skagway Fire Department has only one emergency-use ambulance.
“We received an old ambulance on loan from Haines immediately after the accident,” Simmons said.
But the loaner ambulance’s electrical wiring does not work and it has no lights or sirens, so it cannot be used for emergency transports.
Simmons said the department has had two emergency calls at the same time since the accident, but it has been able to service both parties with only one emergency vehicle.
The department is currently working on getting an emergency ambulance loan from Juneau until a more permanent solution is found.
The ambulance involved in the crash is still being investigated by the RCMP.
“The investigation is still open as the results of the mechanical inspection haven't been received by the Carcross Detachment,” wrote the RCMP in a statement this week.
To his knowledge, Simmons said, RCMP will not be charging Russell with any driving infraction.
Assembly adopts tidelands lease amendment
AIDEA lease proposal for ore terminal to be public soon
By KATIE EMMETS
Without any discussion, the Skagway Borough Assembly on July 19 passed an amendment to the White Pass tidelands lease that allows the Municipality of Skagway to take back undeveloped waterfront land from the railway.
The surrendered land is mostly submerged and located south and west of the Skagway Ore Terminal.
The lease amendment, which was discussed in executive sessions for five months, became public after a July 2 special meeting.
Vice Mayor Dan Henry began negotiations for the undeveloped land surrender in February with White Pass president Eugene Hretzay and ClubLink CEO Rai Sahi. ClubLink is the parent company to White Pass.
“This paperwork is necessary for us to regain control of undeveloped land that may or may not be needed as we develop the port,” said Mayor Stan Selmer, adding the land could be used as part of the Gateway Project to improve docking facilities for the ore terminal and cruise ships.
Selmer said he thinks the land could be built up and used to include a dock and a conveyor belt to add to the ore terminal.
Because the tidelands lease amendment was a change to an already existing agreement between the two parties, it did not need an ordinance and it did not need to be voted on by Skagway residents, wrote Borough Clerk Emily Deach in an e-mail, even though it will result in a reduced lease payment.
The amendment was on the agenda under new business and it passed without a public hearing on a vote of 5-0. Member Mike Korsmo was absent.
For the proposed Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority lease, however, an ordinance will be necessary because it is a new lease, not an amendment of an existing lease, said Deach.
Skagway Municipal Code 16.02.025(B) states, “Ratification of the ordinance by the voters shall be required when the value of the lease payments over the entire term of the lease exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000).”
“The ordinance setting the terms and conditions of the AIDEA lease will need to be approved by the assembly and then ratified by the voters, assuming that the municipality will collect more than $250,000 over the entire term of the lease,” Deach noted.
For the AIDEA lease to be on the October 2 ballot, an ordinance will have to be passed by August 17, the date the ballot goes to print. The first reading of the ordinance would be August 2 and second reading and public hearing of the ordinance would be August 16, therefore AIDEA lease discussions need to be concluded by August 2 for it to be on the ballot for this year’s regularly scheduled election.
Selmer said the assembly plans to meet the deadline by finalizing its portion of the lease in a July 26 special meeting.
Selmer said he expects the lease to become available for the public to view after the executive session on the 26th, which occurred after this issue went to press.
The lease is being developed at AIDEA’s request and would allow the agency to lease the Skagway Ore Terminal after the White Pass lease expires in 2023.
AIDEA currently has a sublease with White Pass.
AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik said it is important for AIDEA to be able to provide long-range certainty to Yukon mining operations that desire to use the Port of Skagway to export their product.
“These new mines have potential operating lives or more than 30 years, which requires that AIDEA’s ore terminal be operational beyond 2023,” Rodvik said.
Summer finally arrives in Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
After what seemed like two-and-a-half months of mild winter in summer time, the real summer has finally arrived.
“There were a number of days with record low maximum temperatures in Skagway during May, June and July,” said National Weather Service forecaster Pete Boyd.
There were four record-breaking days in May, five record-breaking days in June and three record-breaking days in July, Boyd said, adding that Skagway wasn’t the only Southeast Alaska town experiencing chillier-than-average weather.
“It has been abnormally cold in the entire panhandle,” he said.
According to the Associated Press, clear skies caused temperatures to reach record lows across all of Southeast.
“In all, 13 records were set, though some communities, like Juneau, Haines and Skagway, had several reporting stations recording records,” an AP article stated.
But for now, Boyd said, summer is back.
Since the creation of the weather station at the Skagway airport in 1898, the highest summer temperature on record was 94 degrees on July 11, 1900.
Though Skagway was nowhere near record-breaking highs, Boyd said there were a few days in June and July that were uncharacteristically hot for this area.
From June 22-24, Skagway experienced a warm spell that was “well above normal,” Boyd said.
Highs respectively were 76 degrees, 78 degrees and 72 degrees.
These spiked temperatures, combined with a record snowfall on the Chilkoot Trail, caused excessive snowmelt on the pass, which, in turn, caused the Taiya River to rise considerably. So much, in fact, that the Alaska Department of Transportation had to do an emergency fix to 6.6 mile Dyea Road because it was getting eaten away by the river, said Skagway’s DOT foreman Missy Tyson.
After a July 3 emergency repair, workers checked water levels every day. When they noticed that the river ate the repair out a week later and rose three feet in two and a half days, they realized they needed to fix the dike again with larger rocks.
Tyson said DOT had been looking at fixing the dike, which is located at a bend in the Taiya River right before the National Park Service campground, for about two years, but it has been waiting for it to get to a point where it needed an emergency repair.
Boyd said he is unsure if the summer weather will be sticking around for long or not.
“Normally, in late July and early August, you start seeing fall patterns, which are characterized by lowering temperatures and a steady rain pattern” he said. “Right now, there is not anything that indicates a warmer summer ahead, and also nothing that indicates much cooler temperatures like we saw in May and June either.”
Boyd said there seems to be a neutral pattern with no prediction of higher or lower temperatures.
“The three-month outlook from the Climate Prediction Center gives an equal chance that there will be fall weather coming or that summer weather will continue,” he said.
Boyd said the eastern United States, the central United States and northern Alaska are experiencing temperatures that are above average; and western United States, Southeast Alaska and the southern portion of Alaska’s interior are all seeing a 50/50 chance that temperatures could decrease again or stay the same.
Above: DOT crew works on the Dyea Road repair. Photo courtesy Orion Hanson
TOP THIS – Two Yukon fishermen compare catch sizes and stories as they troll in Skagway bay during the Pat Moore Memorial Game Fish Derby, held July 19-22. See Derby Feature for story and more photos. Kile Brewer
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)
Assembly pursuing AEA grant for West Creek
The assembly on July 19 took its first look at the application for a renewable energy grant program sponsored by the Alaska Energy Authority.
Assembly members showed mutual support for the grant application. It is not defined as of yet what the money would be used for, but the West Creek hydro project isn’t being ruled out as an option.
Mayor Stan Selmer, who offered his personal knowledge to fill out the application, made it clear that this doesn’t mean he’s trying to build the West Creek project, but assembly members agreed that it’s something that should be looked into as an energy source.
Selmer also said that the grant cannot be used for a project that would power cruise ships, or send power to Canada. Both have been mentioned as potential customers that could pay the cost of a large West Creek project.
The grant filing date is September 8. – KB
Candidate filing period begins July 30
Two Skagway Borough Assembly seats and two Skagway School Board seats will be up for voting in the regularly scheduled October 2 municipal election.
The two assembly seats are currently held by Tim Cochran and Dave Hunz. School Board President Christine Ellis and Stuart Brown hold the School Board seats.
The terms of all four seats are for three years and will expire in October of 2015.
Any Skagway resident who wants to put his or her name on the ballot needs to submit a declaration of candidacy to Skagway Borough Clerk Emily Deach between July 30 and August 13. Forms can be picked up at City Hall on Spring Street and 7th Avenue.
More Skagway Election information can be found at http://www.skagway.org – KE