August 23, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 15
School Time Is Here
Kenadie (left) and Kelsey Cox visit with kindergarten and first grade teacher Denise Caposey at Skagway School’s back to school barbecue. See story below about the start of the school year by our new high school OJT (On the Job Training) reporter intern Zoe Wassman. For more school BBQ photos, see page 4 of our print edition.
Photo by Katie Emmets
proposed for Gateway Project
DEC content with Skagway’s direction
By KATIE EMMETS
Representatives of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told Skagway Municipal officials they are content with proceedings to clean up contaminated sediments in the ore terminal basin.
Bruce Wanstall of the DEC has been keeping an eye on the contamination for the last few years.
While something does need to be done soon, he told municipal officials in an August 12 meeting that no immediate action has to be taken.
Wanstall said he is happy with the way the municipality is monitoring the contaminated area, and thinks the next step in the remediation process is to get an Army Corps of Engineers permit for dredging.
Because the ore basin is a hazardous materials site, there will be a few issues with getting a permit, said environmental engineer Chad Gubala.
“The state has indicated that moving materials around on a HazMat site for purpose of stabilizing the materials is something we can do on our own,” he said. “But because it’s in a harbor setting, it’s going to involve the Corps.”
The Skagway Borough Assembly authorized Gubala to conduct a coring study on the sediments, which was completed in June.
Gubala said the study concluded that contamination is found within the first five feet of sediment with clean sand underneath it.
In most of the basin, the contaminated sediments are only in the first 3 feet, however, in the area between the dock and the shore contamination is as deep as 4.5 feet.
“Most of the material has accumulated around the existing loader or just to the south/southwest of it, which is what we sort of expected,” he said.
The principal contaminants found in the ore basin are lead, mercury, silver and cadmium. These metals, Gubala said, are of the most concern to ADEC and the Environmental Protection Agency. They have been found in quantities that exceed the Threshold Effects Level, which is the chemical concentration at which the element could have a negative affect on marine life if ingested.
There are also six or seven polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, left over from tars or other types of petrochemical products used to produce heat such as degreasers or tars.
Gubala said low traces of petroleum organics have been found in the sediments and have been broken down to indescribable contaminants over time.
If there were just PAHs in the sediment, Gubala said, it could be incinerated upon removal, but the addition of metals requires a different means of treatment.
Right now, plans for extraction are still in the works, but after they are removed from the basin, the sediments would be packaged into a membrane, placed in a steel barrier on the face of the Ore Dock with clean dirt and paved over.
Gubala said the municipality would be turning the mitigation of contaminated sediments into a brownfield redevelopment project, in which the sediments could be reused to create terminal infrastructure once they are contained.
“We don’t have any elaborate plans to put them on a barge or sell them to a landfill,” he said of the contaminants. “We plan to use them to enhance the terminal.”
A lot of ports in Southeast Alaska shipped ore and metals in the last hundred years, Gubala said, and have used contaminated sediments in their harbors to undergo brownfield redevelopment.
“In this case, we would be pulling out the contaminated sediments and using them to construct a laydown space that would support a new ship loader,” he said, adding that Eagle Whitehorse, LLC wants to use a different ship loader than the one in operation now.
Gubala said Eagle is interested in a bigger ship loader to accommodate its nearly 40,000 tons of ore per month moving through Skagway, which is significantly higher than that of the current tenant, Capstone Mining Corp., which ships between 7,000 and 8,000 each month.
Gubala said the cleanup has come at just the right time because it can be done in conjunction with the municipality’s Gateway Project.
The project, which is in the design phase, includes a two-winter construction period beginning October 1, 2014 and finishing in spring of 2016.
White Pass leases the Skagway Ore Dock from the municipality and will continue to do so until its lease is up in 2023. The railroad company has already granted the municipality access for the Gateway Project design, but it has yet to grant access for construction. During the meeting with Gubala and DEC representatives, assembly candidate Tim Cochran asked White Pass President John Finlayson if White Pass would stand in the way of the municipality if it came up with a way to remediate the ore basin before the construction of the Gateway Project, to which Finlayson replied “No, we would not.”
Gubala did an initial core test in 2007 when he was hired to determine the ore basins level of contamination.
“Capstone was very concerned about making sure it was in compliance with shipping regulations and wanted to make sure none of its product was getting into the environment,” Gubala said.
In 2011, he conducted a second core test to see if Capstone had contributed to the contamination, and results show that the mine hadn’t.
“All of the materials are legacy materials,” Gubala said. “There is no evidence there are any materials introduced in the last six years.”
After the site is cleaned up, Gubala said, it will be monitored in order to prevent a large mitigation from taking place again.
“We will keep monitoring the harbor, and if we determine there has been an introduction of materials, we can identify who is responsible and clean it up quickly,” he said.
Gubala will be incorporating a monitoring system to the ore haul.
The transpiration of ore will be tracked in real time, air-handling care will be increased and the capacity for separate storage of minerals at the ore terminal will be increased.
If there is a spill of any kind, the monitoring system will be able to determine which entity is responsible for the spill and initiate a cleanup immediately after it happens.
As far as responsibility for the contaminated sediments goes, DEC’s Bruce Wanstall said there are several entities who share it: the Municipality of Skagway as its owner, White Pass & Yukon Route as its tenant, and any corporations that used the ore terminal.
“Everyone at the meeting was concerned about their own exposure for their own organization,” Gubala said. “But we need to use the Gateway initiative to pull together as a community, not point any fingers, clean it up and carry forward.”
Gubala said he thinks the municipality will end up in a really good position because of the remediation and Gateway Project combination.
“We’ll be able to rebuild a clean port that will be able to handle an increase of materials from the Yukon, which will give Skagway a greater year-round economy,” he said.
Gubala is writing his recommendations for Skagway’s borough manager, assembly and port commission on how he thinks the municipality should proceed and will be presenting it to them soon.
Local residents switching to Airlift Northwest, Apollo still without license
By KATIE EMMETS
As of Wednesday, medical evacuation insurance company Apollo MediTrans’ Alaska Division of Insurance operation license was still inactive, making this the second consecutive month.
And Cecelia Matthews was tired of waiting.
Matthews’ insurance ran out on July 13. Every Friday and Monday for two months after her policy expired, Matthews called Apollo MT to see if she could renew her insurance.
“They kept giving me the same answers, and they seemed like they didn’t really know what was going on,” she said of Apollo MT’s customer service representatives.
On August 12, one day before her 1-month grace period expired, Apollo MT still didn’t have answers for her — so she called Airlift Northwest.
Matthews said signing up for an Airlift Northwest membership was very simple, and she has since received her membership card in the mail. She bought a 2-year membership for she and her husband, Floyd, for $295.
Because neither she nor Floyd has ever had to be medically evacuated from Skagway, she said getting the membership was more for peace of mind.
“It was making me so nervous that I couldn’t renew my insurance,” said Matthews, an Apollo MT policyholder since the company began serving Skagway in 2009.
Airlift Northwest reminds its members to renew their plan six weeks before they expire, Matthews said, which she likes.
Matthews said she knows a few other Skagway residents who are considering memberships with Airlift Northwest because of Apollo MT’s inability to renew its policies.
Airlift Northwest Executive Director Christ Martin said she hopes Apollo is able to resolve its issues with the state, as she knows how important the company is to Southeast Alaska residents.
“We’re not in this business for the money,” Martin said of Apollo MT and Airlift Northwest. “We’re in it because we know the cost of doing business with us is expensive. Offering insurance for residents makes it a win/win situation for everyone.”
Martin said Airlift Northwest continues to be Apollo MT’s preferred provider and will fly to Skagway 12 hours per day, as night conditions make it dangerous to land at nightly unmanned airports like Skagway’s. The United States Coast Guard will continue to handle night-time medevacs.
Skagway School sees increase in students, teachers and programs at start of 2013-14 year
By ZOE WASSMAN
For the first time since 2010, Skagway School started the year with more than 90 students, nearly 15 students more than last fall.
In the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, Skagway School had 77 students enrolled, but after the official count in October, the number dropped to 64.
Due to seasonal workers taking their children out of school when they leave in October, the student count is expected to drop.
School staff members take the average of October’s daily attendance to determine the student count, which is plugged into a formula used to decide how much money the school will receive from the state on a per-student basis.
Skagway School Superintendent Josh Coughran said there would be a substantial increase from last year’s October student count.
“If I had to hazard a guess, we will end up somewhere in the high seventies,” Coughran said.
Along with the rising enrollment, Skagway School is adjusting to another change – two new teachers.
Jeff and Shayla Shelton, originally from Utah, came to Skagway from Tikigaq School in Point Hope. Jeff teaches science, automotive and woodshop classes, and Shayla teaches technology and robotics classes.
“The new teachers bring in knowledge of career, technology, and science,” Coughran said. “And that’s something the school board has been trying to do for a long time.”
During a short interview, these instructors expressed high hopes for the school, such as establishing a multi-year drafting class, an advanced automotive and welding program, a jewelry creation course, and making Skagway’s FTC Robotics team a major competitor in its upcoming events.
Even though they’ve been adjusting to Skagway life quite nicely, they both say it’ll be better when they can move into their winter housing at the end of the week.
Shayla said it was ridiculously difficult for her, Jeff and their six children to find housing, adding that the family slept in the school for three nights when they first arrived.
The Sheltons both agree that they are eager to start the school year.
“We are excited to be in a school with students who are enthusiastic about learning,” Shayla said.
Race on for two assembly seats
Mark Schaefer running unopposed for mayor
By KATIE EMMETS
This year’s October Municipality of Skagway election will see the selection of a new mayor and two new Skagway Borough Assembly members.
Mayor Stan Selmer and Assemblymen Mike Korsmo and Paul Reichert chose not to file again for candidacy.
Both Korsmo and Reichert said they need a break from the table.
Reichert said he would like to spend more time on personal issues and work, adding that he could see himself running for an assembly seat in the future.
“I’m excited to see so many new folks interested in serving,” he said of the new mayoral and assembly candidates.
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer, who has served on the assembly for six years, on and off, is the only candidate running for mayor.
Schaefer said he never thought about running for mayor until the possibility of no one filing for the position became a reality.
“I am getting pretty excited about the prospect,” he said, of becoming Skagway’s mayor, adding that although he is the only candidate at the moment, others could run for mayor as write-in candidates.
Right now, Schaefer said, the assembly is dealing with “very important” issues, such as the post-2023 White Pass & Yukon Route tidelands lease and a post-2023 Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority ore terminal lease. If elected mayor, he would already be familiar with the goings on.
“I want to continue working on the Port of Skagway Gateway Project and resolve some of the environmental issues at the port, which I know is important to a lot of people in town,” he said.
Schaefer, the White Pass and Yukon Route railway manager of train operations, said he also wants to continue enhancing Skagway’s year-round economy.
“We have a really strong tourist economy, but we need more year-round diversity,” he said.
If elected mayor, Schaefer said he also plans to address Skagway’s lack of available year-round housing.
Not one of the four candidates for Skagway Borough Assembly are serving right now, however, one has been on the assembly in the past.
Former Assemblyman Tim Cochran will be competing for a seat at the table in City Hall after taking a year off to spend time with his son, who was a senior in high school.
The Petro Marine manager served a three-year term on the assembly and was elected in 2009. Prior to his election, he was a Planning and Zoning commissioner and on the Harbor Committee.
“I grew up here, and I am concerned with the future of Skagway,” he said. “There are low numbers in the school and a lot of things going on at the waterfront that I want to be a part of.”
Cochran said he realizes there are a lot of things going on with Skagway’s waterfront, including the negotiations between the municipality and White Pass, and also AIDEA.
“I think we need to find some middle ground where everyone can agree, move forward and not have adversarial relationships,” he said,
Spencer Morgan said he filed as a candidate for the Skagway Borough Assembly because he wants to give back to a town he feels has given him so much.
As part of a young family, Morgan said it is in his best interest to be involved with the future of Skagway.
Though he has a lot of ideas about current municipal issues, education is a point of concern for Morgan.
“I have become passionate about the school system,” Morgan said. “I’ve never really thought about it before, but now that my daughter is in school, it’s on my radar.”
With the influx of toddlers, preschool- and elementary school-aged kids in Skagway, it is important that parents of the young children want to stay in Skagway.
Morgan, a White Pass and Yukon Route railway conductor, will go into the October election with more than three-and-a-half years of experience on Skagway’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
“I got my feet wet on the commission,” he said. “There is a lot more that goes into being on that commission than people think.”
P&Z commissioners must make decisions regarding plans and building construction within the municipal zones and are required to be familiar with Skagway Municipal Code, he noted.
Cristophe “Duppy” Ticaro, who is also a candidate for the Skagway Borough Assembly, said he chose to run because he felt as if it was his duty.
“It is every community member’s civic duty to step up and contribute in any way they can,” Ticarro said. “I’m doing this for sheer love of my community.”
Originally Ticarro wanted to run for Skagway School Board, but when he found out two assembly members were stepping down, he decided to run for assembly.
“The departure of two great members left a big vacancy,” he said of the assembly.
Ticarro said he wants to have a voice for the entire community of Skagway on matters that involve education, which is his number one priority; affordable housing; and small businesses.
Ticarro said he, his wife and 6-year-old son represent the unheard demographic of young families who want to stay in Skagway year-round but are unable to find housing or jobs.
Ticarro also said he thinks there is a need for more municipal oversight.
Though Ticarro has never sat on a borough commission, committee or assembly, he has workedas a police dispatcher and dealt with code enforcement on a regular basis. He is now employed at the ferry terminal.
Tyler Rose said he is running for an assembly seat for many reasons including wanting to be involved in the town he grew up in.
“You can affect the most change at the “You can affect the most change at the local level,” Rose said. “And I have always had an interest in politics.” Rose’s father, Carl, served on the Skagway School Board for many years before becoming the executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards.
Rose said his father’s involvement in politics has influenced his interest in government since he was young.
Though he has been spending only his summers in Skagway, Rose will now be living in town year-round.
“I got married last January, and my wife and I want to make our home here,” he said.
Rose said he and his wife plan on having children and raising them in Skagway, and he thinks all families, with or without kids, should have opportunities to live in Skagway throughout the entire year, not just the summer months.
“Things in the community are going well, according to state-wide standards,” he said regarding the town’s economy. “But I think there is always room to look into new projects as well.”
Though he has never sat on municipal commissions or committees, Rose graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in political science and has been involved in intergovernmental relations as White Pass & Yukon Route railway’s director of safety and labor relations.
Darren Belisle will run unopposed for the school board seat he has occupied for more than 13 years. Skagway’s Alaska Power and Telephone branch manager said he is running to help implement new computer and shop programs, which he has been a proponent for.
Watershed council receives $1.8 million to construct streamwalk project
By KATIE EMMETS
The Taiya Inlet Watershed Council will receive a $1.8 million federal grant to create a Pullen Creek Streamwalk that has been in the planning stages for several years.
The streamwalk will begin at the Broadway Dock fish ladder and provide a safe and educational walking corridor to City Hall while protecting and rehabilitating stream and riparian habitats.
The half-mile trail will provide four overlooks to view the salmon run, and it will feature signs interpreting Skagway’s cultural and natural history and information about salmon.
Plans also include widening the bridge to the west of Pullen Pond to better accommodate traffic.
TIWC Executive Director Rachel Ford said this trail will aid in the decongestion and safety of the railroad crossing on Congress Way, which is something both the Municipality of Skagway and White Pass & Yukon Route railway have expressed interest in doing in the past.
A map of the Pullen Creek streamwalk shows where the dots need to be connected in Zone 3. TIWC
The $1.8 million grant comes from the Federal Highway Administration ‘s Federal Lands Access Program and was awarded to the municipality for the project, as the administration only awards money to governments.
TIWC has been working closely with the municipality as well as Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and WP&YR because the trail will cross through their properties. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has also been aiding with the planning of the streamwalk since its conception.
Before the watershed council knew it was receiving the grant, the four-zone project would have been constructed in phases.
“Zones one and two could have been built first and stood alone,” said Ford, adding that zones three and four would have been created when funding became available.
Though the council can now build the whole project at one time, it is unable to start because there is a connectivity problem in zone three around 4th Avenue and Spring Street.
Ford said there are two private landowners who are hesitant to allow the trail to cross into their properties.
“Once we get the land issues settled, we can start building,” Ford said., adding that hopefully construction could start as early as spring 2014.
Ford said she plans to hold an informational meeting later in the year, but encourages anyone who has questions or concerns to contact her at email@example.com.
Four-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest winner Lance Mackey talks about his dog mushing life at Skagway School August 18 and during two other shows in town. See more photos on page 7 of our print edition. Katie Emmets
Assembly votes in favor of allowing tire mulch at school
After two months of debate and testing, the Skagway Borough Assembly voted 5-1 to allow Skagway School to use rubber tire mulch on its playground.
Two months ago, at the request of concerned parents and teachers, the assembly stepped in and prevented the school from using the rubber mulch on its playground after some provided information that the mulch could cause damage to both children and the environment.
At a June 11 meeting, the assembly voted unanimously to install rubber mats on the school playground, but after receiving a sample of the mat, school officials were concerned.
School Superintendent Josh Coughran wrote a letter to the assembly stating that the Skagway School Board was unanimously in opposition to the rubber mats and discussed worries about the density of the surface material and concerns about the endurance of the adhesive used to connect the mat tiles.
“The school board suggested using rubber mulch in the impact zones and pea gravel everywhere else,” Coughran wrote. “We believe this position represents a compromise that will ensure the safety of our children, preserve the aesthetic appeal of the playground and demonstrate fiscal responsibility.”
Mayor Stan Selmer said the mats were ordered, but were on hold to be shipped until the school board received a rubber mat tile sample.
The rubber mulch was purchased for both the school playground and the municipality’s Mollie Walsh Park, and it has already been installed at Mollie Walsh.
Municipal parks director Gregg Kollasch said it cost $15,000 to fill Mollie Walsh Park and an additional $18,000 for the school playground’s mulch, which was already in town when the assembly made the decision to not install it.
The mats, if installed, could have cost the municipality $140,000 and $150,000, including shipping, materials and labor.
At an August 15 assembly meeting, Coughran told assembly members that parents and staff were at the school board meeting when the playground was discussed and were in favor of the mulch and pea gravel compromise.
Assemblyman Dan Henry said he suggests the assembly let the school board make the decision for their school and said he would vote for the combination of mulch and pea gravel.
Assemblyman Steven Burnham Jr. said the assembly has the responsibility to listen and take into consideration what the concerned parents had to say about the mulch and said he wouldn’t vote for the combination, but would prefer the mats.
The assembly voted 5-1 for the mulch and pea gravel combination, with Burnham voting no.
Ordinance would raise mayor’s stipend to $1,000 per month
An ordinance that will raise the Mayor of Skagway’s stipend passed its first reading unanimously.
The ordinance states that the complexity of the role of mayor, with its increased time demands, has changed since the city became a borough.
“The surrounding communities also electing a mayor in an Assembly/Manager form of government provide a stipend recognizing the demands . . . and have adopted a mayoral stipend greater than $1,000 per month,” the ordinance reads.
If passed, this ordinance will raise the mayor’s stipend from $100 per meeting to $1,000 per month.
The assembly voted unanimously to pass the first reading of Ordinance No. 13-24. – KE