September 23, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 17
High Stakes Waterfront
An ore ship loads at the Skagway Ore Dock Sunday. The future of this portion of the waterfront, known as the White Pass tidelands lease, could come down to whether a letter of intent is signed by today that would have the railroad surrender the western (left) portion to the municipality, while retaining the Broadway Dock (right) and management of cruise ships using these facilities.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Borough floats revised lease extension proposal to WP&YR
Hretzay offers counterproposal - UPDATE BELOW!
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Borough Assembly, with its attorney present on Sept. 15, revised a letter of intent for a new tidelands lease with White Pass & Yukon Route, and gave the company until today to sign it.
As of Wednesday’s deadline for this issue, WP&YR president Eugene Hretzay had not signed it. In an e-mail on Tuesday, he wrote: “We'll be discussing it, but at this time I can't commit on when and if we'll respond.”
The assembly discussed the revisions in open session with municipal attorney Robert Blasco present. The main part of the letter remains: having White Pass surrender the western portion of the 1968 tidelands lease (including the Ore Dock and terminal), allowing the company to keep the Broadway Dock, and appointing the railroad cruise terminal operator for all docks. But there were changes in how the Municipality of Skagway would compensate the railroad for lost revenue from subleases White Pass would be giving up as well.
In its original letter, the borough offered $48,000, but White Pass balked at the figure in a closed door meeting with the assembly on Sept. 6. White Pass was supposed to give the borough revenue figures for those subleases, so the borough could come up with a new compensation figure, but the company had not by last week’s meeting. So the assembly settled on the following language, leaving the matter open to future negotiation:
• “White Pass is compensated for lost sublease revenue of the Terminal Lease Tract, less the current lease payment to MOS, to the date of termination of the existing Tidelands Lease on March 19, 2023, by reducing the lease payments by an amount to be determined upon receipt by the MOS of financial information from White Pass, satisfactory to the MOS, demonstrating the sublease revenue for each sublease.”
The remaining two items involved:
• removing the Skagway Terminal Co. sublease from a list of subleases to be transferred to the borough. STC is a White Pass subsidiary that controls the land for the ore terminal, which is further subleased to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. This would make it easier for the borough to negotiate an extended sublease with AIDEA.
• language that states: “The agreement to appoint White Pass as Cruise Terminal Operator will include provisions regarding determining vessel berthage priority with MOS approval until March 19, 2023.”
The agreement calls for White Pass to be handle cruise ships at the Ore Dock until the current lease expires, but no longer.
Mayor Tom Cochran said White Pass also wanted that service beyond 2023 for 50 years, but the assembly did not agree. The assembly also kept language about an extension of the Broadway Dock lease for 20 years past 2023, with two possible five-year extensions. The railroad had wanted 50 years, the mayor said.
“I don’t think we, as an assembly, can agree to (50 years)…” Cochran said. “Bottom line, I think we have been very accommodating and have given them as much as we can.”
The assembly discussed the language changes, deciding to leave the revenue picture as an “amount to be determined.” Assemblyman Paul Reichert said the municipality needs to see what White Pass is getting, from the various sublease payments to the flow-through payments for fuel transfers at the Ore Dock.
“We need to figure out (a number) where we’re not losing and where they get what they deserve,” Reichert said.
Blasco said, at some point, he would like to review all subleases, since the borough was never present during those negotiations, and only got to approve the final products. Assembly Dave Hunz said the STC sublease would go away and should be removed.
Mike Korsmo suggested the language about the municipality being consulted on priority berthing for cruise and ore ships.
“We’re not trying to change the tour schedule,” Korsmo said. “We just want a seat at the table.”
Korsmo added that he hoped they could move from the current standstill.
The mayor suggested the Sept. 23 date, but he was not optimistic about getting something back.
“I could be wrong, but if we get a big flat ‘no’ then we should use the press and say we have acted in good faith,” Cochran said. “A lot of work has gone into this.”
It was not lost on anyone that this was possibly the mayor’s last chance at an agreement before he leaves office. Several in the audience were wondering why White Pass officials were not present. Selwyn Chihong mine representative Paul Taylor and likely new mayor Stan Selmer were among them.
The lack of an agreement is holding up work on port development. The Port Commission met earlier in the week and was poised to start advertising for a Request For Proposals for project management services for the Gateway Project.
Cochran told them they should wait until the borough has site control of the ore dock and terminal section of the tidelands lease before they start advertising. He suggested they wait and then advertise for 60 days. The commission agreed.
In the meantime, the Port Commission has hired summer worker Mariah Morales to submit an application for a federal TIGER 3 Grant, which is due next month. Trisha Sims of the Skagway Development Corp. was on maternity leave and unable to write the grant this time, but Morales, who has experience writing federal transportation grants in Washington, DC, was available. She had met with the mayor and commission chair John Tronrud, and they said she could have the bulk of the work done by mid-October.
The borough has $10 million in state funds, plus another $5 million approved by voters in a bond issue last spring, for the project, which would expand and improve port facilities, allowing both ore and cruise ships to dock at the same time. Commission members said the federal money, if approved, could go toward dredging and uplands for the project. Morales will be paid about $6,000 for writing the grant application. Member Tim Bourcy voted against hiring her, saying he was uncomfortable with single-source contracts on short notice.
UPDATE: White Pass did respond on the afternoon of Sept. 23 with a counterproposal that would grant the company an extension of the Broadway lease tract and cruise terminal operations to 2063, and compensation in the amount of "all lost net operating income" from its relinquishing of the ore terminal tract and subleases. It gave the municipality until Sept. 30 to respond. As of Sept. 28, the Assembly had not met to address the latest letter. Watch for updates in breaking news section and Oct. 14 issue.
Parnell moves forward with new Juneau Access study, will not appeal court ruling
By KATIE EMMETS
Governor Sean Parnell has decided to move forward with the Juneau Access project by conducting a new Environmental Impact Statement instead of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a previous ruling that halted the state’s preferred option of a road with shuttle ferry service.
In 2009, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick said while planning, state and federal transportation officials failed to consider all alternatives to building the Juneau Access road. Sedwick ruled that a 2006 environmental impact statement was inadequate because it did not study improving the current Alaska Marine Highway ferry system.
After the ruling and a court-issued injunction which halted work on the project, federal highway officials did not want to fight Sedwick’s judgment, but the State of Alaska challenged the decision by appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In May, the court upheld Sedwick’s decision with a 2-1 vote. Because the decision was not unanimous, it opened up the door for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Brenda Hewitt, Alaska Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said Parnell had to weigh his options when deciding whether to take the case to the Supreme Court or do a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
According to a release from Alaska DOT, the chances of the Supreme Court hearing a case based on a writ is less than one percent and could take up to two years before it is chosen out of thousands of others across the country.
“By the time they got around to it, the EIS would be complete,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt said the new study could take up to two years and cost about $1.5 million.
“The supplemental EIS will give us a chance to update the ferry systems and give the public a chance to share their opinions and concerns,” she said. “It’s never a bad idea to involve the public.”
But Dyea resident Kathy Hosford said she doesn’t think the ferry system can be improved.
“History shows after 45 years we can’t make it better,” she said.
A lot of people are moving out of town because of medical issues, she said, and if a Skagway resident needs to travel to Juneau to receive medical attention during winter months, they have a difficult time because the ferry runs sporadically in the winter and is sometimes canceled.
Hosford said she agrees with Parnell’s decision to move forward with an Environmental Impact Statement.
“I think he’s very smart in doing this rather than taking a small percentage chance that it will get heard by the Supreme Court,” she said.
Hosford said she thinks going the EIS route will be the most efficient use of both time and effort used in getting the Juneau Access road project approved by the government.
Governor Parnell said the Juneau Access road is a critical infrastructure project for Southeast Alaska.
“It’s time to move it ahead,” Parnell said in the DOT release. “The project will increase transportation capacity and reduce travel time and cost in the region, particularly for travel between the Lynn Canal communities of Juneau, Haines, Skagway, and Alaskans travelling on the road system.”
Hewitt said the project, as proposed before, with a 50-mile road on the east side of Lynn Canal to the mouth of the Katzehin River and a short ferry ride to either Haines or Skagway, would make the trip from Skagway to downtown Juneau about three hours, which would cut ferry travel time down by at least three hours.
Skagway resident and former mayor Tim Bourcy said he does not agree with the money that will be spent on the supplemental EIS, and the money that has been put into the possibility of the road from the beginning.
“It’s a bad project,” he said. “And I don’t think their cost estimates are correct.”
Bourcy said that he thinks the state has spent far too much money on the project, and that the money could be better spent in other areas of Alaska transportation.
“It could be used to maintain the roads they already have,” he said. “I don’t know why the state is proposing to build this road when it doesn’t maintain the roads it already has,” he said. “And there are numerous bridges that need replacement.”
Bourcy said there have been many town discussions on this issue and in the end, the town as a whole is not in support of the Juneau Access road option.
The latest DOT cost report estimate for the road-ferry project back in 2009 was $449 million. It will be updated in the new EIS.
Dyea residents ask for wider gangway across river during construction project
By JEFF BRADY
The contractor working on the upcoming Taiya River Bridge rehabilitation project has been asked by Dyea residents to widen a proposed pedestrian gangway from three feet to four feet, so it would hold 4-wheelers for transporting goods across the river during construction.
Work on replacing the bridge’s lower structure is set to start on Oct. 1 and could take up to two months. No vehicles will be allowed across during construction, but residents will be allowed to walk across on a temporary gangway.
During a preconstruction public meeting at City Hall on Sept. 16, John Garvey with North Pacific Erectors said the state stipulated that the gangway be just three feet wide, but he said widening the gangway to four feet can be done if they have the steel to do it.
The steel for the bridge was due to arrive by the end of this week, but currently no vehicles longer than 40 feet are allowed on the Dyea Road past Mile 2.6. An eroded section of roadway on a curve on “Hackett Hill” must be repaired before that ban is lifted. Local Department of Transportation foreman Missy Tyson said she is waiting on approval from DOT’s environmental section, and then the road repair can begin. She said the bank will be stabilized but not widened, and it should be done in time for the bridge project.
The bridge will receive new steel beams underneath and a new, flat wooden deck and rails on the sides. The upper trusses of the 1948 bridge will remain. When finished, it will be able to handle normal highway loads. For the past decade, it has seen stricter weight limits as the lower structure deteriorated and the bridge landed on a national alert list. Garvey commented that the work was long overdue. He said he did not realize the seriousness of the bridge’s state until he pulled a big nail out of rotten wood with his hands on a site tour last week.
During construction, pedestrian access will be available at all times over the gangway, except when NPE is moving steel into place, Garvey said. Between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m. the company also will provide a shuttle service on the Dyea side. Residents can also call the company if they need a ride (see legal notice for number).
Several residents spoke in support of a wider pedestrian bridge for hauling heavier grocery items across like dog food.
“We all got carts that we pull on our 4-wheelers,” said Mike Hosford.
John McDermott suggested at least having a push-cart like those used at the small boat harbor for taking heavier items across. Steve Mielke, DOT’s project manager, said that possibly a small 4-wheeler could be provided for transporting goods.
As currently designed, the gangway would be 30 inches off the ground and there would be four steps leading up to it. Garvey mentioned there may be Americans with Disabilities Act issues with that approach.
Public safety concerns also were addressed. Fire department officials wanted to make sure there would be easy access for transporting an ambulance patient across the bridge, and the police department asked for reliable cell phone, land line and radio contacts for emergencies.
A police car with seats taken out will serve as a transport ambulance on the Dyea side, and SFD will be staging Engine 19 there as well. It will be housed in a heated tent.
“If someone is hurt, we will get them across that bridge safely,” Garvey said, adding that they also will have a boat staged by the bridge. He said they are hoping to have the job completed in 30 days, “but we are planning on 60.”
Tim Cochran, manager of local fuel distributor Petro Marine Services, said 60 days is about the maximum amount of time people can go without a fuel delivery. They will be busy topping off tanks in Dyea until the end of this month.
UPDATE: Project director Mielke called Dyea residents on Sept. 23 and informed them that it was not possible to widen the pedestrian gangway to four feet, because of how it needed to be worked over the old bridge.
Lynne Cameron opens two clinic cabinets that are being used to house homecare items such as blankets and dressings for the Good Neighbor Volunteers. Two brand new hospital beds, a wheel chair and other larger items are at the old clinic building and will be transferred to the clinic storage building when constructed. Katie Emmets
Volunteers move forward with mission of helping
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway Good Neighbor Volunteer Board met to adopt new bylaws, policies and procedures in a Sept. 14 meeting, which gets them closer to helping those in Skagway who need medical care in their homes.
Although the board was formed in April, resident Barb Brodersen, current board member, attempted a similar group under the same name, which she started in 2007. The group dissolved after only a little while, but there has been enough community support to rekindle it and continue on its main mission: helping people in need.
Before the volunteers board was set up, Skagway nurse practitioner Lynne Cameron said she was looking for something that would make her a little more available to the community in a non-professional setting.
Cameron said over the years she has helped take care of several Skagway residents who knew they were dying but wanted to live out their lives in their own homes.
Sometimes taking care of a sick loved one stretches friends and family members so tight that they get overwhelmed and don’t know how to handle care, Cameron said, and other board members agreed.
She added that friends and family should be there for comfort, but not necessarily care.
“The last guy I helped take care of had friends coming out of the walls,” she said, adding the friends were constantly bringing food over and keeping the man and his family company by talking, laughing and grieving with them.
“I want this to be a volunteer organization where we give to each other,” Cameron said.
Board treasurer Virginia Long said she has experience in caring for people in need because she took care of her mother when she had terminal liver cancer.
Long said her mother did not want to stay in a hospital because she was not comfortable there.
“So I took her home, and she was happy to be home,” she said. “People live their lives in Skagway, so they can die here in Skagway.”
The Good Neighbor Volunteer Board is made up of eight members with Kathleen O’Daniel as the president.
One thing the volunteers found themselves struggling with in the meeting was flu shots.
For about 15 minutes, the group discussed whether or not they should make it mandatory to receive a flu vaccination before volunteering.
Although Cameron said she doesn’t want to “cut anyone out because of personal choices,” the group needs to remember they are not making the decision to require flu shots for people on the streets, but for a group that will be administering care to someone.
Board member Sarah Histand reminded the group that there would be people who do not want to take the flu vaccine for personal reasons.
“The more hoops we have to jump through . . .” she said, “we have to make it pretty easy or people are just going to do their own thing.”
Stan Selmer brought up the point that a volunteer might not want to get a flu vaccine, but if the person they are caring for already has one, they might be able to make an exception.
After Selmer’s suggestion, the board decided they want people to get flu vaccines before volunteering, but would make exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
The Good Neighbor Volunteers are currently looking for those who want to volunteer in order for them to attend mandatory training, which will begin Monday, Nov. 14 and last through Friday Nov. 19. All volunteers must have training before they can volunteer.
The training will last a full week and cover topics like effective communication skills, volunteer ethics, death and dying in Skagway and stress management.
In the meeting, board members discussed a few Skagway residents who needed care as soon as possible. The volunteers for these residents will be given training immediately to expedite the care process.
Members of the Skagway community who are interested in volunteering are asked to contact the Good Neighbor Volunteers at firstname.lastname@example.org .
KNUCKLE SPIRIT – Jacob Tice, captain of Skagway’s fastest Klondike Road Relay team, Horse-Cow: Milk It & Ride It, shortened up their name on their knuckles for the 29th annual relay. See more photos and crazy names on our 29th Annual KRR page. - Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
All bar conditional use permits granted
Seven Skagway establishments were given conditional use permits after minimal complaints from Skagway residents.
The permit, which is required for an establishment to serve alcohol in the Business General district, had not been acknowledged for about 20 years, but while looking at the code during winter months, P&Z Chair Mike Korsmo found a provision that stated it was necessary.
After both the Skagway Borough Assembly and the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed whether it should be abolished or not, they came to the conclusion that the permit was in the code so residents could have a chance to weigh in and share complaints or grievances they have about an alcohol-serving business.
The commission gave bar owners until October to apply for and receive the conditional use permits.
Only two residents had complaints: one for the Skagway Brewing Co. and one for the Red Onion Saloon.
Sharon Garland owns the house across the alley from Brew Co. and said she is having a terrible time renting it out.
Garland said she would never think of letting a family live in it because at night, noisy patrons of the bar are “urinating and having sexual intercourse” in the alley.
Brew Co. owner Mike Healy said cameras are installed in the alley that run 24-hours a day, and they have never caught anything illegal or indecent happening at night.
But the commissioners agreed that even if things such as the ones Garland mentioned were happening, it is more of an issue for the police, not the bar owner, and they would not fault Healy at all.
Healy also mentioned that he hires someone to walk around checking the decibel level and recording it in noisy spots multiple times per night when they have live music in the bar.
Doug Hulk told the commission that many times during the night, his wife has called the police because of the loud music at the Red Onion.
In addition to the noise, Hulk mentioned that because he lives about 40 feet away, people walk through his yard and sometimes throw their trash on it.
Although the noise may be bothersome to Hulk, Red Onion owner Jan Wrentmore said every time the police have shown up, she has been under the maximum decibel level allowed under the noise control ordinance.
Commissioner Spencer Morgan suggested that, if the complaints keep up, the assembly should look at how late the bars are open and possibly set shorter hours for them in the winter months.
Wrentmore wrote in a letter that she thinks this would pass overwhelmingly if put on a ballot because it would curb people from walking home early in the morning and disturbing quiet neighborhoods. – KE
Harbor dredging, Lillegraven plans proceed
An obviously upset Assemblyman Mike Korsmo wanted an answer from the body regarding why the engineer for the Small Boat Harbor project could not get a definite answer on how the dredging materials would be disposed.
The initial plan, he said, which was presented to the Harbors Advisory Committee, was for ocean disposal. But he said the plans had been stalled on Borough Manager Tom Smith’s desk because of an idea to possibly do uplands disposal as part of the Gateway Project. Korsmo said the committee was told by harbor engineer URS that the cost would increase by $10 per cubic yard if they had to transport and stage the material while waiting for the Gateway Project to proceed.
That would bump the dredging cost from and estimated $75,000 to $150,000 to $200,000,” Korsmo said, which would break the Small Boat Harbor project’s budget.
He said the borough’s wavering on the issue was holding up the engineering, which is 65 percent complete.
“I’d like an answer sooner than later because it is holding up the harbor project,” he said.
Dredging for the Small Boat Harbor will produce about 80 cubic yards of material, whereas it is estimated dredging the ore basin for the Gateway Project would produce 150 cubic yards.
In the end, it was concluded that the material from the Small Boat Harbor could be used underwater to create a ledge needed for an underwater wall at the north end of the Gateway Project, and they instructed the manager to direct the engineer to proceed with underwater disposal.
In other action, the assembly cleared up a miscommunication that upcoming work on restoring the Lillegraven Creek outlet for salmon habitat would come out of the Port Commission’s budget. Commission chair John Tronrud had told the assembly it could use up the rest of their budget. Assembly members said that, while they would like the work to be credited toward mitigation for the Gateway Project, the need for the Lilligraven work was caused by the borough’s flood control project. The dike choked off the creek’s outlet to the Skagway River.
“It was part of the flood control project that didn’t white work out,” said Assemblyman Dave Hunz.
Hunz said he would support a sales tax budget amendment for the Lillegraven Creek work, and doing the improvements with the hope of getting credit from the Department of Fish and Game. – JB
Assembly approves six months of tax holiday
“In the past, the months have varied,” said Assemblyman and Finance Chair Dan Henry. “They have lasted anywhere from two months to four and a half months for no specific reason other than encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.”
This year, however, Henry said the six-month break was suggested specifically because of the revenue generated in the first and fourth quarters.
“Which was more important: easing tax burdens on residents or us losing revenue for the city,” he said.
Luckily, the municipality will be able to make up for the loss because it is ahead of budget projections on revenues from this summer.
The projected increase in sales tax revenue is about $250,000, Henry said, and he expects about $100,000 will be lost because of the tax holiday.
“We’ll still have a little over $150 (thousand),” he said.
Normally, Skagway cash registers are set from 5% to 3% for October through March, but starting Oct. 1 they will be set to 0% for retail sales only. – KE