September 28, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 17
Skagway emergency personnel, right, move a stretcher containing Dyea Road accident victim Kyle Rood up a steep embankment with the aid of ropes pulled by firefighters on the road. Rood was later medevaced to Juneau with non-life-threatening injuries. He was able to call 911 from his cell phone and his dog escaped the cab of his pickup unhurt. See more in the Police and Fire Blotter.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Eagle, White Pass pitch rail link to Whitehorse
Hretzay says governments should put money toward enhancing railway instead of highway
By KATIE EMMETS
WHITEHORSE – Chuck Eaton of Eagle Industrial Metal said the company’s ore would be ready for shipment in 2013, and he wants White Pass and Yukon Route railway to haul it to the Port of Skagway.
In a September 19 Yukon Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Eaton said he expects two million metric tons of iron ore to be recovered from the old Whitehorse Copper Mine tailings.
Over the next five to six years, the tailings could produce 1,500 tons of iron ore per day, which would lead to 30 50-ton trucks running through Skagway every day, seven days a week.
“Though the trucks would comply with all safety regulations, there would still be some impacts the trucks could have on the road,” Eaton said.
The trucks could eat up the highway, which would cost a lot of money in highway maintenance, he said.
“And with 30 trucks a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are increased public safety issues,” he said, adding that the constant sighting of ore trucks could decrease Skagway’s attractiveness from a tourism perspective.
Eaton also said the air quality could decline due to an increase of diesel fumes from the trucks.
Eagle Industrial Metal is just the start of increased truck traffic coming down the Klondike Highway.
“It’s not just going to be our trucks,” he said. “There are five or six trucks a day now, but there could be 90 to 100 trucks a day in the next three to five years.”
Not only would the train be the preferred mode for the public, but also for the shipper, he said, adding that the $23-$24 cost per ton, plus the cost of diesel fuel, for a trucking operation would decrease his profit margin.
Eaton said he has spent a lot of time discussing shipping possibilities with both trucking companies and operations personnel at White Pass. When comparing rail price quotes against trucking price quotes, Eaton discovered that shipping modes involving rail would be cheaper than an all-truck haul.
A multi-mode delivery to Skagway, which would involve trucking ore to Carcross and shipping it by train the rest of the way, would cost his company two percent less than shipping by truck. An all-rail option from Whitehorse to Skagway would cost his company 30 percent less than shipping by truck.
Eagle Industrial Metal has a life of about five years, so the savings is minimal, he said, but for other Yukon mines with lives of up to 30 years, an all-rail option could greatly benefit operations and profit margins.
In order for Eaton to reap the maximum amount of savings, unusable track from Carcorss to Whitehorse would have to be rebuilt and new train equipment would have to be purchased.
White Pass President Eugene Hretzay said developing an all-rail shipping option from Whitehorse to Skagway would cost about $50 million – about $40 million ($1 million per mile) from Carcorss to Whitehorse, to rehab the tracks – and about $10 million for rail flat cars, ore containers, and loading equipment.
At the luncheon, Hretzay mentioned several ways of acquiring funds to pay for these costs, but he said he thinks stakeholders, such as the Alaska and Yukon governments, the Municipality of Skagway, and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, should be the ones contributing money because they would all be benefiting from the operation.
For Skagway, benefits would come both monetarily and in the form of job security, he said.
The municipality would see the creation of 40 year-round jobs if the railroad were used for transporting mineral ore, Hretzay said.
“The port would also benefit from the LNG rail back haul business to supply the mines with power and chemicals,” he said.
Shipping by rail would save the mining companies in shipping costs, he said, as they would save $0.50 per ton shipping ore to Skagway from Carcross, and $8-$9 a ton shipping from Whitehorse.
“The cheaper shipping costs will attract greater volumes of business to the Port of Skagway and enhance AIDEA’s investment in the ore terminal,” he said.
With a government regulated maximum cap of 50 tons of ore per truck, it would take 600 trucks to carry enough ore to fill a 30,000 ton ore ship, where it would take only 20 30-car trains to carry the same amount, he said.
Because White Pass would be paying for any and all maintenance and upkeep, the Alaska and Yukon governments wouldn’t have to put millions of dollars into maintaining the Klondike Highway, Hretzay said, adding that he thinks government money, if not needed for the road, could be better spent on education and community rather than asphalt and gravel.
“Over the next few years, $83 million is proposed for the Alaska section of the Klondike Highway and Captain William Moore Bridge upgrades to handle the increased truck traffic,” he said. “The Klondike Highway 2012-13 estimate for maintenance for the Yukon Territory Highway and Public Works is $7.4 million.”
A train shipping option would also benefit in the form of cleaner air, he said, as White Pass is now compliant with Tier 3 emission standards for newly built locomotives.
Hretzay said White Pass has been involved with the city of Whitehorse from its start, as the railroad founded the city and brought gold rush hopefuls to the Yukon.
The railroad started hauling lead and zinc ore in 1968 and continued to do so until the Faro mine closed in 1982.
Though White Pass is owned by ClubLink Enterprises Ltd., and its board of directors would ultimately have the final say about White Pass getting back into the ore haul business, Hretzay said he and Eaton were “singing from the same page” when it comes to shipping ore Skagway via rail.
Mayor Stan Selmer and other municipal representatives were present at the luncheon.
WP&YR agrees to $100,000 fine for 2009 dumping incident in Bennett Lake
By ASHLEY JOANNOU
The White Pass and Yukon Route railway has been ordered to pay $100,000 after dumping 24 rail cars’ worth of rocks and sediment into Bennett Lake in 2009.
In territorial court Wednesday afternoon, the company pleaded guilty to one count of depositing a deleterious subject into water frequented by fish under the Fisheries Act.
White Pass operates a passenger railway service between Carcross and Skagway, a portion of which follows the eastern shoreline of Bennett Lake. The area is subject to chronic erosion which can threaten the stability of the railbed, the court heard.
After some washouts along the track in 2007, the historic railway was in need of some repairs.
Officials with the territorial government and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) expressed concerns about possible damage those repairs were doing to fish habitat in the area. In October 2008, the company submitted a cleanup plan which showed track repairs could be made without dumping harmful material into the lake.
The regulatory agencies asked for more information which was never received, and no approval was ever given for that plan.
About a year later, two fisheries inspectors conducting a marine parol of the east side of the lake found workers dumping 24 rail cars full of dirt, rock and sediment onto the lakeside and the water, at mile post 41.2 near Bennett City.
Bennett Lake straddles the Yukon-B.C. border, and is among the largest freshwater lakes in northern British Columbia, Judge Richard Thompson heard.
The lake supports populations of lake trout, whitefish, Arctic grayling, northern pike, chinook salmon, burbot, cisco and sculpin.
The earthen material was being dumped from White Pass railcars onto the riparian zone at the water’s edge and into Bennett Lake in an attempt to shore-up and stabilize the steeply sloping, eroded shoreline next to the rail line.
The material totalled approximately 440.4 cubic metres of fill. It included a significant amount of fine sediment (silt, clay and sand) as well as gravel and boulders, according to an agreed statement of facts read into court.
Tests done one metre from the deposit site showed suspended sediment concentration almost 100 times greater than what is permitted under Canadian guidelines.
“While the officers did not observe any dead fish or other indications of harm to the aquatic life in Bennett Lake, the suspended sediment was sufficient to cause direct, acute and chronic harmful effects to the fish and other organisms at different levels of biological production,” said prosecutor Noel Sinclair.
The fact that no harm was seen is not a reason to reduce the fine, he said.
This concentration of sediment can kill Arctic grayling “sac fry” over 24 hours.
As well, it may have impaired the development and survival of northern pike embryos and larvae and reduced prey capture by lake trout and Arctic grayling, according to the agreed statement of facts.
Also, the cloudiness created in the water by the sediment may have affected other aquatic organisms.
The $100,000 fine was recommended by both sides and approved by the judge.
Sinclair argued the hefty fine is warranted because the company knew about possible problems since October 2008 and because of the high volume of material dumped into the water.
For a first offence under the Fisheries Act, the maximum fine is $300,000.
This fine “sends a message to companies and contractors doing work in areas with fish. If you disregard the regulatory process, you are going to be subject to serious fines,” Sinclair said.
White Pass’ lawyer Paul Cassidy said the company was “horrified” by what happened, and that there was a “belief work could be done without harm to Bennett Lake.”
In his decision, Thompson said White Pass had a “heavy responsibility” because it was working so close to the lake.
Most of the fine — $99,000 — has been earmarked for DFO’s Whitehorse field office.
It will be used for projects specifically targeting improvements to fisheries and fish habitat around the Yukon, the judge ruled.
The department has already received a number of proposals for possible projects, Sinclair said.
Nearly a year after the dumping, DFO approved a work plan which would allow for infill work at specific areas along the shore of Lake Bennett, including the site near Bennett City.
The authorization requires White Pass to comply with mitigation measures designed to limit the introduction of sediments into the water during shore stabilization work, the court heard.
No details were provided as to what those measures were.
The company has until Oct. 12 to pay the fine.
This image of the fire-stricken bus was shot by a Texas couple on another Southeast Tours van on their way back down from the summit after the Klondike Highway reopened. Nora Gouldie
Fire destroys Southeast Tours bus on Klondike Highway
By KATIE EMMETS and JEFF BRADY
A Southeast Tours bus caught fire on the Klondike Highway and caused an hour and a half delay in traffic on September 19. The driver and passengers were able to escape uninjured.
The Skagway Fire Department received a call at 9:31 a.m. advising of a bus fire located about 10 miles up the highway.
When firefighters arrived, the 24-passenger bus was parked next to Bridal Veil Falls and was completely engulfed in flames and smoke. “I don’t know how long it was actually burning before it was reported,” said Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Greenstreet. “But by the time we got there it was burning end to end.”
Because there was a nearby Alaska Department of Transportation project in the area, DOT workers were able to use their signs to stop traffic on the highway.
The bus’s construction was mostly combustible, Greenstreet said, adding that most people don’t think of vehicles as having combustible material.
It took 10 firefighters and about 1,000 gallons of water and foam to extinguish the fire, Greenstreet said.
“We had one small explosion and one large flare-up when the water hit the vehicle,” Greenstreet said. “It took about an hour and a half to get it to where it was safe to let traffic pass.”
Greenstreet said he could only speculate on the cause, and didn’t want to release his opinions on the cause of the bus fire. He said there will probably not be an investigation because nothing other than the bus was damaged.
But the owner says he know what caused the fire.
Heath Goebel of Southeast Tours said the bus had just returned from the Ford dealership in Whitehorse, where it had its exhaust manifold replaced, and the bus was out on its first tour since the repair was made.
“From the best we could tell, some kind of fitting did not get secured,” Goebel said, and gas was leaking on the engine going up the hill. “It had heated up to point that it ignited the fuel and burned up the bus…. I hope their insurance will cover it.”
Goebel said there were 24 people on the bus and they started smelling smoke. The driver pulled over and got everyone out, and realized there was a fire under the hood. Goebel said the driver tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher, and then, when it got too out of control, he radioed down to fire department.
“There were no injuries and nothing was lost,” Goebel said. “It was one of those unavoidable things. We had no idea there was a problem. We thought our bus was good to go.”
Goebel recently acquired Southeast Tours from former owner Dave Lee after leasing it for this season.
MAYOR’S APPRECIATION – Casey McBride, right, receives a gold pan plaque from Mayor Stan Selmer in appreciation for his work for the community over the years. McBride closed his Taiya River Jewelry store this week after 36 years in business. Courtesy Muni. of Skagway
MUNICIPAL CANDIDATE FORUM - Borough Assembly (2 seats): Steve Burnham Jr., Gary Hanson and David Hunz (i); School Board (2 seats): Stuart Brown (i) and John Hischer (write-in candidate). i=incumbent.
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)
Skagway to search for new manager
Following a September 20 executive session, the Skagway Borough Assembly decided to begin its search for a new borough manager.
Borough Manager Tom Smith’s contract expires on December 31, and Mayor Stan Selmer said the assembly wants to allow ample time for the search process.
Selmer said the search could take anywhere from 30 to 90 days, adding that the assembly would like some overlap time between managers so there could be a training period.
The municipality will hire a search firm to assist in the process, and an advertisement will run in towns throughout the state of Alaska and anywhere else the firm sees fit, Selmer said.
Assemblymen Mike Korsmo, Dan Henry and Mark Schaefer will make up the search committee.
In February, assembly members voted to extend Smith’s contract through November 2013, but after discussing the contract in an executive session in April, they shortened it to December 31, 2012. The change cut more than 11 months off of his contract.
After the change was made, Selmer said the assembly had reservations about awarding the 18-month contract and wanted to award a shorter one. Selmer said he could not discuss the reasons for the shortened contract because they are protected under executive session rules.
Before his contract was shortened, Smith indicated he would be retiring in 2013, Selmer said.
Smith declined to comment for this story.
Capital project priority list named
The Skagway Borough Assembly on Sept. 20 unanimously passed a resolution that set the priority list for Skagway capital improvement projects.
Renovation of Skagway’s Small Boat Harbor ranked at number one, the Port Gateway Project at number two, a public safety building at number three, a Liarsville bike path at number four, Main Street sidewalk replacement at number five, Main Street repaving at number six, and Skagway’s boat harbor storage and repair at number seven.
This capital project list will be utilized for state government lobbying efforts by borough lobbyist John Walsh.
Mavis Henricksen addressed the assembly during the resolution’s public comment period to ask why the Gateway Project has been moved down from the first slot to second.
“Economics is a very important thing to us, seeing as how we are losing our school over it,” Henricksen said, alluding to economic benefits Skagway could see from the completion of the Gateway Project. “And the Port Gateway Project used to be number one on the list, and I am unaware of how and why it was moved down.”
Assemblyman Dan Henry told Henricksen that the Gateway Project has not lost the assembly’s attention, but the evolution of and funding for the project are mostly in place.
“The small boat harbor is a three-phase project, and we have awarded only the first phase of it, so we need to be pro-active with the state and any and all other agencies for our second phase,” Henry said. “Though the Port Gateway Project in its entirety is a larger project, and some may feel a more important project, at this present time the focus has shifted back to the small boat harbor.”
Henricksen said she thinks projects that improve the safety of Skagway residents should be right behind those that improve the economic conditions, citing the replacement of the Main Street sidewalk as something that has needed repair for more than 20 years.
“Main Street is narrow half the way up, and it’s like running a gauntlet with parking on both sides,” she said. “It’s the main street for kids going to school, and frankly walking on the sidewalk on Main Street is a bigger chore than it’s worth, and it’s unsafe.”
Mayor Stan Selmer agreed that Main Street repaving and sidewalk replacement should be top priorities.
“For all the good things (the municipality has) done for Broadway, we have ignored everything we could possibly do for the Main Street sidewalks,” he said.
Borough Manager Tom Smith said Juneau’s R&M Engineering said the entirety of the Main Street fix would cost about $22 million, about $1 million per block, for the sidewalk replacement and the road repaving.
“Coming into the finance phase of this, we certainly want to be recommending to push it up the list as we get some of these (projects) in front of it accomplished, so that we can position ourselves for state grant requests,” Smith said.
With projects that would improve safety so low on the list, Henricksen said she questions the assembly’s priorities.
“This is not necessarily a case of what is the absolute priority as an individual or a group would like to see them done” Henry said referring to the projects. “It’s how can we target a project and get it accomplished.”
Henry said the order that the projects fall into is based on priority but also based on the ability to fund and the ability to get subsidy funding.
The assembly also unanimously passed a resolution that will allow the municipality to ask for Commercial Passenger Vehicle Excise Tax funding for the top three projects on the list – renovation of Skagway’s Small Boat Harbor, the Port Gateway Project, and a public safety building.
As stated in the resolution, these three projects will enhance the experience of cruise ship visitors and lessen the potential impacts they may cause to the municipality.
Both resolutions passed with a 5-0 vote. Assemblyman Dave Hunz was absent.
Railroad gives endorsement for Pullen Creek riparian project
In a September 19 Skagway Public Works Committee meeting, municipal officials and Taiya Inlet Watershed Council Director Rachel Ford gave an update on the Pullen Creek riparian project.
The watershed council received a letter of endorsement from White Pass and Yukon Route, the landowner adjacent to Pullen Creek north of 15th Avenue.
The potential rehabilitation project would fence a municipality-owned section of Pullen Creek north of 15th Avenue to prevent gravel from getting into the creek and hinder people from parking near it.
The wooden fence would start right after the private footbridge that leads to Doran Groves’s property and run about a block and a half north. Groves attended the meeting and said he had no issue with the project, as long as he is able to keep his footbridge. Any other crossings would be limited to existing roadways.
Ford said the project has a $4,000 budget, and added that the watershed council, along with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, will put out a request for proposals after the project goes before the assembly.
Municipality to go forward with Seven Pastures Area Master Plan
The assembly unanimously voted in favor of a proposal that will allow the Municipality of Skagway to move forward with Sheinberg Associates in preparing a Seven Pastures Area Master Plan.
In the plan’s introduction, Sheinberg Associates writes that it is following up on the 2009 comprehensive plan the company helped create with a master plan for the more–than-20-acre Seven Pastures area.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $18,050 and will identify existing and possible future land uses and needs in the area. It will also address engineering, environmental, land use and regulatory concerns.
Though Assemblyman Dave Hunz was absent when the proposal was voted on, in a previous meeting, Hunz said he was in favor of a master plan because it address the need for a dike in the Seven Pastures area to protect it if and when the Skagway River floods. – KE
Left, Jed Greenstreet digs up dirt during the beginning phases of the Skagway Public Library expansion project, and library employee Rick Bannerman checks out a book for a library patron at the school library, the temporary home for the public library until the expansion project is completed. Katie Emmets
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Skagway School library aide position hired, J-high basketball coach hired
At a September 19 Skagway School Board meeting, the board voted unanimously to award two contracts.
Helene Crouch was hired as the school’s part-time library aide. The position was recently increased to 25-hours per week. Reid Lawson was awarded a new contract for the 2012-2013 season and to return as junior high basketball coach. – KE