July 29, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 13
John Tronrud holds his Pat Moore Derby winning fish. The king salmon weighed in at 20.85 lbs. Read the story and see more photos on page 12 of our print edition and on this issue's Sports and Recreation page.
Photo courtesy of Jan Tronrud
Changes to roads upset Yakutatnia Park trail walkers
Renovation project stopped after concerns raised over plants, trees cut
By KATIE EMMETS
An under-the-radar project that cleared local trail roads to allow for better vehicle access has been halted after eliciting an emotional response from Skagway residents.
Without any notice to the public or Parks and Recreation Committee, a team of public works employees took an excavator to Yakatania Point and Smuggler’s Cove roads to cut trees and plants in order to make roads more accessible to emergency vehicles.
Grant Lawson, public works director, said there has been talk about repairing these roads for several years, but the final push came from the two fires Smuggler’s Cove has had since July 4.
“No one asked me to do this, but I’m sure somewhere along the line, someone said to me it would be nice to get an ambulance down there,” he said.
Lawson said the project was only 75 percent complete when it was halted, but in the roads’ current states, small vehicles could now be driven on them without trees ripping off antennas or lights.
After learning of the emotional response the project caused, Lawson admitted he should have consulted with the municipality before repairing the roads.
“That’s my bad,” he said, “I should have gone to Parks and Rec. to see what they had to say.”
There has been speculation throughout the community that Lawson was planning to create a turn-around at Smuggler’s Cove, and becasue residents didn’t know what was happenng, they feared the worst and assumed a turn-around would be implemented, which would have destroyed a stinging nettle patch.
“I never wanted to go all the way down there,” he said. “I didn’t want to make a cul-de-sac — just a place to make a three-point turn.”
Parks and Recreation chair Paul Reichert said residents were scared of the possibility of a turn-around because no one, including Reichert, knew what was going on.
Had he known about the renovations prior to them happening, Reichert said he would have informed residents and asked for their opinions.
WIDER BUT BETTER? – Above left, a new patch of rocky fill on the middle section of a widened portion of the Smuggler’s Cove road. Right, the upper section of the Yakutania Point road with trees cleared and brush piled on both sides of the widened road. Jeff Brady
At the July 21 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, two weeks after the renovations started, three residents expressed their anger at not being notified about the project before it happened and explained to assembly members what they thought about the roads’ current aesthetic state.
This prompted the assembly to halt the project and Reichert and fellow assembly member Mike Korsmo went with Lawson to survey the area this past Monday.
After looking at the roads and hearing what Lawson had to say about his decision to uproot trees and clear out plants to create a better road, Reichert said he agrees with Lawson’s action, adding that it would be nice for residents to be able to take a vehicle down to Smuggler’s Cove to drop off supplies for future events.
Resident Emily Willis, however, saw things differently.
While walking two weeks ago, Willis noticed a lot of trees were uprooted with large brush piles on the sides of the road.
She called Lawson later in the day and got some answers.
“I am sad for the plants,” she said. “I don’t go to assembly meetings all the time, but I saw no notice for this. It happened kind of under the radar.”
Skagway resident Deb Boettcher agreed with Willis, saying had she known about the project, she would have voiced her opinion about keeping the roads scenic.
“I was totally taken aback by this,” she said. “When I heard about this, I thought ‘Where was I? How did this happen with no public notice?’”
Boettcher was the first one tp notice the changes on the roads over two weeks ago.
With her three dogs, one of which is elderly and cannot walk up steep mountain trails, she walks the road at least three times a week because it is easy for her dogs and also her favorite place to walk.
But she hasn’t been back since she saw the renovations.
“I can’t walk it because it’s too painful right now,” she said. “I will not go to Smuggler’s Cove in the near future.”
The overhanging trees, which are no longer there because of interference with the road, were Boettcher’s favorite part.
“I have always considered Smuggler’s Cove road as more of a trail,” she said “If I wanted to walk a road, I would walk the Dyea Road.”
Boettcher said she understands needing emergency vehicle access, but “it could have been done more aesthetically instead of just taking a blade to the trees,” she said.
She said she she suggested the municipality hire a landscaper to attempt to make the area more visually pleasing and to keep it from being an “ugly eyesore.”
“It was my favorite place,” she said. “When I saw it, I was so upset I literally cried all the way back home.”
A Parks and Rec. Committee meeting was held Thursday July 28, after this issue went to press, to discuss the future of the project.
Skagway to crack down on RV violations
By MARK ABADI
Several Skagway families are living illegally.
One couple, Cris Siegel and Katie Leontti, live with their 4-year-old son in a recreational vehicle on a grassy property on 21st Avenue, and like the mobile homes of some other Skagway residents, it isn’t stationed in a designated RV park.
The practice violates municipal code, which requires habitants of RVs to use one of the designated parks around town.
For years, residents have gotten away with the practice as a way to save money and enjoy more yard space, often unaware they were breaking the rules to begin with. For some, it's the only housing they can find.
But a recent string of complaints has forced municipal officials to start enforcing against these illegal dwellings, prompting an investigation that could send dozens of Skagway residents scrambling for a place to live.
Complaints force action
Since April, Skagway permitting official David Van Horn has received six complaints concerning five different RVs on properties outside of RV parks, and he expects to see more in the near future.
Town officials have long been aware of the issue, but the lack of formal complaints prevented serious enforcement. Van Horn said before the recent string of complaints, he hadn’t received any since he became permitting official in August 2010, and saw no evidence of previous enforcement for years.
“People kind of slack off,” said Matt Deach, chairman of Skagway’s Planning and Zoning Commission. “Soon we have RVs popping up like mushrooms in people’s backyards.”
Outside of a designated park, Van Horn said, RVs generally don’t have access to a sewage system, meaning residents could leach waste into the ground, or worse, dump it into nearby streams.
“If it continues to go rampant it poses a health risk for the entire town,” he said.
Learning the hard way
More than anything, residents are expressing surprise at the RV rule’s existence, perhaps because of a misinterpretation of what an RV actually is. According to municipal code, no mobile home or trailer may be located south of 15th Avenue. However, RVs, which are defined as having their own motive power, are restricted specifically to RV and trailer parks.
“I asked dozens and dozens of people. I’ve talked to everyone. They just say, ‘What are you talking about? I thought north of 15th you’re allowed to have two RVs,’” resident Abby Kramer said.
Earlier this summer, Kramer leased out a space for the Siegel RV on a lot she bought last year.
Kramer said she invested about $13,000 in the property, which needed 55,000 pounds of trash removed, as well as sewer, water and electricity hook-ups for the RV.
Now, she is learning her tenants may not make it past the summer in their new home. Van Horn said he will try to begin sending notifications to code violators by early August.
After a certain amount of time, the municipality can start issuing daily fines of up to $300 to violators.
Last week, Kramer submitted a letter to the Skagway Borough Assembly asking them to consider changing municipal code to allow RVs outside of RV parks.
“I’ve never had a complaint. My neighbors have only thanked me for cleaning up that lot,” she said. “Not one neighbor has any problem with them living there.”
Van Horn has begun advertising the RV rule through the media and public notices (see page 11).
“Education goes a long way because people just don’t know,” Skagway Borough Assemblyman Tim Cochran said. “It’s just this attitude that we’ll just do it now and ask for forgiveness instead of ask for permission before. That kind of attitude or sentiment has been going on for years in Skagway.”
After receiving mulitple complaints, Skagway could begin fining residents who live in recreational vehicles outside of designated RV or trailer parks. Mark Abadi
RV park wants action
A strong voice for the code’s enforcement is coming from one of Skagway’s RV parks, which presumably is losing customers to other people’s front lawns.
John Garland, owner of Garden City RV Park, said he’s noticed RV users flocking outside of the RV parks for at least 10 years.
“What I’m talking about is people breaking the law,” he said. “I have no sympathy for them.”
Garland said if borough officials don’t begin enforcing the code before the end of the summer, “they’re not doing their jobs.”
The other RV park available for summer-long use in Skagway, Mountain View RV Park, charges $734 a month for a space with water, electricity and sewer access.
“It’s expensive to stay an in RV Park for the summer,” said manager Leona Moran, adding that her park’s parent company sets the rates. “I just think it’s really expensive to stay anywhere here.”
Garland declined to provide the rates for spaces in his park.
A third park intended for tourists, Pullen Creek RV Park, charges $38 a day for fully equipped spaces, but doesn’t allow visitors to stay more than three weeks.
‘A sensitive issue’
Any enforcement of the RV rule could have implications on Skagway’s already notorious housing market.
“You’re probably kicking 40 to 50 families out of their homes,” Cris Siegel said to the Planning and Zoning Commission members at a July 14 meeting.
Almost all of the residents in question are seasonal workers like Siegel, who has operated Skagway Float Tours for 15 years and also co-owns Frontier Excursions and Adventures.
Assemblyman Cochran said he doesn’t expect to see any of them being forced to move by the end of the summer.
As the issue plays out in the coming weeks, Kramer said she’ll continue to plead her case for a code change to town officials, even if she has to speak on behalf of RV residents.
“It’s a sensitive issue. People don’t want to speak up because people don’t want attention drawn to them if they’re living under the radar,” she said.
“If they’re going to get kicked out, I might as well fight my hardest to try and get something done.”
Charges upped in Nalan murder
Charges against Michael McEvoy of Anchorage were upgraded by a grand jury last week to first degree murder and second degree murder after the death of former Skagway resident Mozelle Nalan on July 17.
McEvoy allegedly shot Nalan three times on June 30 outside Soteria House, an assisted living home for people with psychiatric needs. Nalan was a volunteer in training at the home at the time of the incident. She and McEvoy were both former graduates of a program at the home, which is located in Spenard.
McEvoy, 21, was originally charged with attempted murder and assault.
In a July 20 press release from the Anchorage District Attorney’s office, Assistant DA Taylor Winston, who presented the case to the grand jury, said the law provides for a maximum sentence of 99 years on the murder charge and a maximum fine of $500,000. McEvoy's trial is scheduled for Sept. 26 but could be postponed due the complexity of the case, said Assistant Public Defender Dan Lowery in a statement to the Associated Press.
Nalan, 19, was critically injured with severe head and neck wounds. She lived for several days before being taken off life support.
Nalan grew up in Skagway. A local service in her memory is schedule for Sunday. See obituary on page 2. —JB
Restrictions imposed on Canadian firewood
A federal regulation will effectively prevent people from bringing Canadian firewood back into the United States.
As of August 1, U.S. border patrol officials will confiscate all firewood obtained in Canada that has not been heat-treated.
The regulation will apply to all Canada-U.S. borders. But for Skagway residents driving back from the Yukon and British Columbia, the heat treatment of firewood is unrealistic, meaning residents will have to go elsewhere for firewood.
“I don’t know of any place in the area that would heat treat for you,” said Tom Keough, agriculture specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Skagway.
The requirements, implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May, were necessary to prevent invasive forest insects present in Canada, including various species of longhorn beetle, from entering the country, Keough said.
Under the regulation, softwood firewood from Canada must be heat-treated at 133 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, as must spruce logs from Nova Scotia. Hardwood firewood must be treated at 140 Fahrenheit degrees at 60 minutes, down from a previous requirement of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 minutes. – MA
JUNIOR RANGER DRAG – A girl drags Skagway Fire Department’s rescue mannequin “Randy” across the grass on Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park’s Junior Ranger Day. See more photos on page 6 of our print edition. - Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
West Creek hydro feasibility application
A resolution to support the hydro-electricity feasibility of West Creek passed unanimously at a July 21 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting.
The municipality will be applying to Alaska Energy Authority for a Renewable Energy Fund Grant in order to pay for the study. It also approved $59,000 in its fiscal year 2012 budget to match the grant from the state, if approved.
After a meeting between Mayor Tom Cochran and Yukon Energy President and CEO, David Morrison, Morrison wrote a letter to Cochran thanking him for his time and reiterating his company’s interest in Skagway’s renewable energy option.
“Yukon Energy is looking for renewable and clean sources of power for primarily winter-based load increases,” Morrison wrote in the letter to Cochran. “If West Creek could be utilized to provide power for summer customers in Skagway, we would be very interested in pursuing the purchase of surplus power from the system during the winter.”
Morrison wrote that the project would be large enough to meet the growing loads in the Yukon, but also large enough to offset the costs of building new transmission lines to Whitehorse. The letter also stated if there were summer surpluses in the Yukon, it would be possible to sell them back to Skagway to power cruise ships instead of using diesel.
When the same project was brought forth to Skagway residents in 2010 in the form of a community opinion survey about West Creek and 43 supported it and 30 opposed it, with 23 undecided.
In the meeting, retired Alaska Power and Telephone manager Stan Selmer said the deadline for the AEA grant is August 24 and that the assembly should prepare in advance because the borough didn’t file on time for last year’s grant deadline.
Selmer said it is important to have the support of Yukon Energy and thinks this study might attract the attention of Gov. Sean Parnell.
News publisher Jeff Brady is the new owner of property on West Creek, and he told the assembly he is not opposed to the study in its current form, but he thinks this would be a large project that will need a lot of studying. Brady added he is unsure of how the project might impact the valley.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said the feasibility study is just the next step in learning about the potential for hydro-electricity in the West Creek.
“It’s something that needs to be done,” he said.
Cochran reiterated that this is just a study, but that the surface of renewable energy is just beginning to be scratched. – KE
Better return on sales tax ahead?
Finance Committee Chair Dan Henry made a suggestion to move 60 percent of the nearly $10 million in sales tax reserves from various accounts within Wells Fargo to a Elliot Financial Management account.
Former Skagway Mayor Skip Elliot owns Elliot Financial Management, and in 2002, Skagway’s $3.5 million land fund was placed into an account managed by his company.
It has since seen an 11.8 percent return, which equates to about $380,000. The nearly $10 million sales tax reserves in Wells Fargo bank accounts have only seen a return of less than 2 percent, which is around $40,000, Henry noted.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said he might be a little more comfortable if 50 percent was transferred to start out rather than the proposed 60 percent.
Hunz also said the borough needs to plan for the future when it comes to this move.
“Skip’s done a good job for us, but we have to think a few years down the like when Skip’s gone,” he said. – KE