August 9, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 14
Pullen Out Pinks
A fishermen grabs a pink salmon with a lure in its mouth after catching it in Pullen Pond. The run is on, and the kings have also been coming home in record numbers. See story in Sports & Rec.
Photo by Elise Giordano
A shot in the dark
Dyea shooting incident results in no charges, agencies looking at their roles
By ELISE GIORDANO
No charges have been filed resulting from an investigation into a shooting incident in June along the Taiya River in Dyea that prompted a multi-agency response, but the incident has federal and local agencies looking at shooting regulations and how they will respond to future incidents.
Shots were fired along the Taiya River just south of the West Creek confluence on the night of June 1.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park ranger Derek Thompson heard the gunshots and went to investigate.
According to the incident report, upon reaching a campground off of the Taiya River, Thompson, who was off duty, saw there were six people at the site and decided to return home to change into uniform.
He informed ranger Liz Blakeley of the gunshots and also called the Skagway Police Department for assistance.
Thompson returned to the campsite with Blakeley and questioned the group about the shots fired.
When Thompson exited his vehicle, he had an M16 series semiautomatic rifle at the high ready position – pointed toward the group.
The group assured the rangers that it was not they who had been shooting, but a man in a white pickup truck.
The two rangers searched for the truck and for any casings but found none.
Upon returning to the campsite, they were joined by Skagway Police Department officer Brayton Long who had arrived on scene and began questioning some of the individuals.
Chief of Police Ray Leggett said that Officer Long was there only to assist the rangers.
Thompson and Blakeley exited the truck with the rifles at the low ready position and after realizing that one of the six was missing and that there was no gun in sight but shell casings all around, decided to handcuff three of the six participants – two women were questioned and then let go.
Though the men were handcuffed, the rangers informed them that they were not under arrest but being detained for purposes of officer safety.
According to the report, the handcuffed men confessed to having participated in shooting a 40-caliber Glock at a stump across the river – 72 yards away.
KGRNHP Superintendent Mike Tranel said were the bullets to miss the stump, they would point directly toward the Chilkoot Trail at chest height of persons walking it.
Rangers reported the presence of alcohol at the scene and after patting down the men prior to handcuffing them, found marijuana.
Eventually, the remaining suspect exited the woods with a dog. The gun was still nowhere to be found. The rangers cited the four men for shooting outside park boundaries – an incident which could directly affect visitor safety or resource protection.
One man was also cited for giving false information.
Though the National Park Service cited the men, they were also breaking municipal code. Section 9.02.010 A. of Miscellaneous Provisions states that it is unlawful to discharge any firearms within the Taiya River floodplain south of the confluence of West Creek and the Taiya River, except for on the Dyea tide flats.
Leggett said that though the ordinance has been in place, it has never been enforced. But signage will soon be going up to enforce it.
The rangers eventually let the men go because all of the individuals had been accounted for, though there was still a question about the location of the firearm.
The following morning both rangers revisited the site with a metal detector used for archeology projects.
They followed a trail of casings into the woods and got a hit on the detector.
The gun was found hastily buried and was collected as evidence.
Background checks were done on all who were involved and one man had previously been charged with a felony – deeming it illegal for him to possess a firearm.
After working with an agent in Anchorage, and with the U.S. attorney, all charges were recently dropped based on the fact that there was not enough evidence to substantiate the level of hazard in the park on the Chilkoot Trail, Tranel explained.
The evidence at hand was not beyond a reasonable doubt.
Though the NPS dropped its charges, the case was brought to the attention of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. No charges have yet been made.
“I think this was a big miscommunication,” Leggett said.
He said the rangers didn’t see anyone shooting and that they issued the men tickets that they couldn’t write.
“It ended up being one heck of a learning tool,” he said. “I think they just jumped the gun a little bit.”
One of the four men questioned, who wished to remain nameless, brought the incident to the attention of The Skagway News two weeks ago. He originally wanted something in the paper regarding the incident, and said he had a court date of Aug. 15. But once the charges were dropped last week, he declined to speak on the issue.
He said he felt he was in his rights to shoot at that spot after 8 p.m. and then felt threatened by the rangers.
Tranel said he supports his rangers’ decisions 100 percent.
“I cannot let my law enforcement people ignore their training when they go into these incidents,” he said.
Neither Thompson nor Blakeley were reprimanded for their actions. Tranel said they followed the correct procedure of writing a formal report within 24 hours. Both the NPS and the US attorney deemed that their actions were appropriate.
“I want to be very sensitive to local jurisdiction,” Tranel said.
As a gun owner himself, Tranel said he supports being able to shoot guns in Dyea, but says that when laws are being broken, he’s a little less sympathetic.
“When you do things that are outside the scope of the law there are going to be consequences,” he said.
Tranel said he was pleased with how the NPS was able to work with the SPD and have each other’s backs.
He is open to constructive criticism regarding the case and would like to know what people think the park service can improve upon.
“I won’t compromise on public safety,” Tranel said. “When we invite people to the park, we want them to have a great experience. Being safe is a fundamental component of that.”
AIDEA board OKs ore terminal expansion, new mining company to use for magnetite
By KATIE EMMETS
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority will move forward with the Skagway Ore Terminal expansion after its board approved the project and the development of a leasing agreement with Eagle Whitehorse, LLC.
The expansion, which will cost about $7.5 million to construct, will accommodate Eagle’s delivery, stockpiling, loading and shipment of magnetite from the old Whitehorse Copper Mine tailings in the Yukon.
According to a July 5 e-mail sent to Mayor Stan Selmer from AIDEA’s Deputy Director Jim Hemsath, Eagle is developing a project to extract magnetite which would be transported to Skagway by truck, stockpiled at the pre terminal and shipped out by marine vessel.
“The magnetite project is expected to have a relatively short life of no more than six years,” Hemsath wrote. “Nevertheless, AIDEA is working on plans to expand the ore terminal storage building to accommodate this new user and the magnetite.”
In an interview with The Skagway News, Hemsath said AIDEA has been working with Eagle’s owner Chuck Eaton since he had the idea for this mine about two years.
“We are getting close to reaching our agreement,” Hemsath said, adding that he expects a final arrangement within seven to 10 days. “When it’s finalized, engineering will start on the shed. We expect completion in six months, and there should be magnetite moving down the highway from Whitehorse in February.”
Hemsath said the short-term project is a little risker for AIDEA than a long-term project like Capstone’s Minto Mine, which ships its copper through Skagway’s ore terminal.
But it’s a risk AIDEA is willing to take.
“It will get us an expansion of the shed, and we are happy for the construction jobs Skagway will get this fall and additional trucking jobs coming,” he said.
Hemsath said AIDEA has added into its proposed agreement with Eagle that 50 percent of trucking jobs would go to Skagway if drivers were able and trained.
Building this shed will also show mines in the Yukon that Skagway is serious about using its terminal to export ore.
Hemsath said AIDEA received Skagway’s post-2023 lease proposal from the municipality the night of August 3, and though he hasn’t had a lot of time to study it because of traveling, he said there are still some problematic differences in the language.
“There have been some concerns about surcharges, which I have articulated to the mayor,” he said. “But we certainly understand where the municipality is coming from.”
Hemsath also added that AIDEA would be offering a lease extension to Capstone which would allow it to use Skagway’s ore terminal until April 2023, and he looks forward to having both Capstone and Eagle as tenants.
“We really want this facility to work, and I personally love Skagway and want to find out what else we can do to create year-round jobs in the community,” he said. “It’s been a long fight in the last few years to get a new tenant and I’m really glad we got one. We’re ready to do some building.”
ALEXCO silver mine to close
for winter, AML impacts minimal
Alexco Resource Corporation announced last month it would be shutting down its Bellekeno silver mine and mill in Keno, Yukon amidst dwindling silver prices.
According to a Whitehorse Star article, the company said it hopes the suspension of operations would only last through the winter and the mine could re-open again if silver prices increase.
Company officials told the Whitehorse Star that it would avoid selling silver at current or weaker market prices and allow the mine and mill to reopen after the winter if and when the silver market has improved and underlying fixed costs are reduced.
The operation will start closures on September 1 and shut down in stages over the next two-and-a-half months. It will use the winter months to restructure underlying fixed costs at Keno Hill and refine plans for a production tonnage ramp-up in the 2014-2015 years, the Whitehorse Star states.
Alexco contracts Alaska Marine Lines to transport its concentrate, and despite the 72 mine employees that will be laid off, AML will not have to cut any of its staff.
“It doesn’t affect us a whole lot,” said Skagway’s AML Port Manager Cory Bricker, adding that ALEXCO comprises less than 25 percent of AML’s Skagway generated revenue. “We might have to reduce hours on weekends and nights, but I will not lose any employees.”
Bricker said the ore pots used for the concentrate haul are not used for anything else, so they would need to be stored either in Skagway or Washington.
Though ALEXCO doesn’t use Skagway’s Ore Terminal, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s Executive Director Jim Hemsath said it is concerning because it shows how quickly the price of ore can change. – KE
The Silver Shadow docks in Skagway on July 26, a week after the story of its failed health exam became national news. Jeff Brady
Cruise ship fails health inspection
By KATIE EMMETS
After discovering unsanitary food storage practices aboard the ship during a surprise health inspection in Skagway, the Silver Shadow was given a failing grade by the Center for Disease Control.
According to a CNN article, an anonymous crewmember tipped off the CDC, which promoted an unscheduled inspection of the luxury cruise ship on June 17.
The crewmember sent photos to the CDC that showed meat in crew cabin sinks and trays of food in the hallways outside the crew cabin doors.
The inspection resulted in a grade of 82, and according to the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation program website, anything less than an 84 is considered less than satisfactory.
Silversea Cruises, owner of the Silver Shadow, is a luxury cruise line that offers all inclusive, all-suite cabin voyages costing about $5,000 per person.
According to the VSP report, the cruise ship was cited repeatedly for using an organized effort to remove 15 trolleys of food from the ship's galley to individual crew cabins to avoid inspection.
According to the CNN article, Silver Shadow temporary pastry chef Adriano Colonna said a trolley full of salami and unrefrigerated blue cheese was stored in crew cabins, and added that food was hidden in crew cabins overnight to avoid inspections.
Gina Finocchiaro, Silversea Cruises Spokeswoman, told CNN the company was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome of the inspection.
Company representatives told CNN it had always received the highest grades in the past, and CDC records confirm Silversea ships received grades in the high 90s and sometimes receive 100 percent.
The final CDC report published on the Silver Shadow inspection states that inspectors poured chlorine on the discarded food to prevent any of it from being used.
“Other than a promise to correct actions that led to the problems, the owners of the ship were not fined, nor was the ship stopped from proceeding on its scheduled trip along Alaska's Inland Passage to Juneau,” the CNN article read, adding that the VSP requires all ships to submit corrective action statements for deficiencies.
According to the CDC database, the Silver Shadow joins five other cruise ships that received failing grades in 2013, but it is the only one in Alaska right now.
The Silver Shadow is calling on Skagway 16 times this summer.
TAXING MOOSE - The two bull moose locked in combat will be back in Jeff Smith’s Parlor Museum in 2014 after tasidermy treatment by Nicole Peters. See story and photo in KGRNHP Feature - Submitted by KGRNHP
One candidate filed for four open positions, deadline Monday
With four elected official positions coming open and a filing deadline of August 12, Skagway Borough Clerk Emily Deach said only one person had filed as a candidate for the October election as of Tuesday of this week.
Tim Cochran, who has served as an assemblyman in the past, has filed for an assembly seat. Cochran was up for reelection in 2012 but took a year off to spend time with his son who was a senior in high school.
There are two assembly seats up for reelection this year and they currently belong to Paul Reichert and Mike Korsmo.
Korsmo, who has served on the assembly for about 12 years, said he would not be running again and added that he needed a break.
Mayor Stan Selmer said he would not be running again as well.
“I’ve determined over the last couple of years that the changes in leadership at the borough manager level make it impossible to keep up with the mayor’s requirements,” he said.
In his retirement, Selmer is still spending about 60 hours a month in meetings, meeting preparation, meeting with the borough manager, office hours and traveling to represent the municipality.
In order to generate interest in the mayoral position, Selmer plans to introduce an ordinance at the borough assembly table that would increase the mayor’s stipend from $100 a meeting to $1,000 a month.
“The assembly might shoot it down and tell me that I served during the wrong years,” he said. “But hopefully an increase would entice someone who is ready to make the commitment to be mayor but who might have to cut back on hours at work.”
There is one Skagway School Board seat up for election and holder Darren Belisle said he plans to run again.
“There’s some exciting new stuff happening, and I’d like to see it followed through,” he said. “I’ve been pushing hard for a (vocational/technica) program and now it’s finally happening.”
Belisle has two children who attend Skagway School, a ninth grader and a seventh grader. – KE
Municipal personnel policy changes
The assembly passed resolution 13-23R regarding the Municipality of Skagway Personnel Policy on August 1.
They amended section 5.5 to say that holiday pay does contribute toward hours worked with calculating overtime pay. They also amended section 2.2 to say that employees transferring to a different position would have 14 calendar days to return to their previous position if written notice is delivered to the borough manager. – EG
Cruise support letter to senator approved
The assembly agreed to send a letter to Senator John D. Rockefeller regarding the importance of the cruise ship industry in Skagway.
Port Commission member Steve Hites wrote the letter on behalf of Mayor Selmer, and after reading and amending certain sections, the assembly decided to send it. Hites spoke to the assembly at the beginning of the meeting and urged them to send the letter as mayors in Ketchikan and Juneau have sent letters, as has the governor of Florida and the Port of Miami. According to Hites, Rockefeller has been an outspoken critic of the industry and wants to put harsh regulations in place. – EG