October 12, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 18
Voting official Frank Wasmer, left, hands voter Jackie Schaefer a sticker after she cast her municipal ballot with grand niece Maycee Authier on Oct. 2.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Two residents charged by brown bear in town
School children also spotted bear, police plan to shoot aggressive bears
By KATIE EMMETS
As she was leaving the house at 5:30 a.m. on a dark Oct. 2 morning, her husband yelled to her from the next room to watch out for bears.
“I laughed and thought ‘yeah right’ as I walked out the door,” said Marlene McCluskey.
The walk from McCluskey’s house to the Skagway Recreation Center is a little over a block, and she has done it hundreds of times.
But that day. something happened that usually isn’t included in her morning routine. She was charged by a brown bear.
“As soon as I got to the playground, I heard a noise to my right in Sammy Hoover’s alley,” she said. “When I turned my head to look, there was a bear charging at me.”
McCluskey said she acted like a total girl and began screaming. Her instincts told her to run away, but as she turned to run, she tripped over the curb and fell on the ground.
“I was just laying there, and I thought ‘oh my God, I look like dinner,’ ” she said. “I knew I had to get up.”
McCluskey said she got on her feet, threw her fists high in the air and screamed “NO!” very loud and long. The bear did not relent, and at this point, it was about three feet away from her and not budging.
“It was too dark to see the bear’s face, but I could see its big yellow claws,” she said. “Just thinking about them is freaking me out.”
When she realized the bear wasn’t going anywhere she screamed for help.
Lori and Steve Burnham heard what was going on and were on their porch with flashlights. McCluskey said the noises they made prompted the bear to walk back across the street toward the garbage strewn in Hoover’s alley.
“I swear I had never been so relieved in my entire life,” she said of the bear walking away.
When it turned to cross the street, she noticed there was a second smaller brown bear near in the alley. “I was so scared to turn my back to it, but I had to get to the rec. center,” she said.
When she got inside, she collapsed and yelled that a bear had just charged her.
“I called Reed (her husband) and told him to come over and pat me on the head before I get on the treadmill for an hour and a half to walk off all of this adrenaline,” she said with a laugh.
And of all the Skagway residents the bear could have charged that morning, it was Marlene McCluskey, the woman who wrote and produced an informational brochure about bear encounters for the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I actually wrote this, and I was the one who was charged by the bear.” she said, with a laugh
“You know, it says things in it like: don’t run, scream, get big, so I knew what to do if I was ever attacked by a bear, but all of these weird thoughts go through your head when it happens to you,” she said.
This isn’t McCluskey’s first animal attack. “I have had dogs attack me,” she said with a laugh, and has a fear of them.
“It’s such a good story, and everyone is laughing,” she said. “I’m going to be driving to the rec. center from now on.”
Even though the story does have some lightheartedness to it, McCluskey does not downplay the fact that she could have been attacked and that garbage was the reason the bears were in the alley – and luring bears into town.
“No matter how many bear-proof Dumpsters are in town, it doesn’t matter if people are still putting their trash out,” she said.
While doing research for the brochure, McCluskey found several bear-proof garbage cans and containers that could meet Skagway’s needs. She and her husband, Reed, bought bear-proof containers for all of their rental properties in town, and upon seeing their effect, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park followed suit.
Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett said he realizes the gravity of the situation and is trying to address it as best as the department can.
“We’ve been looking for them, but they’ve dropped off the visual radar,” Leggett said of the bears. “We know they are coming into town.”
At Wednesday’s deadline for this issue, there was a report of two elementary school children seeing a bear after school on their way to the rec. center. The school was briefly locked down afterwards while police looked for the bear, and it was spotted again early that evening.
Bears have been coming in during early morning hours this fall.
SPD dispatcher Gary Trozzo said he saw a large pile of bear scat on an early morning run. He encountered the brown bear pair near the Garden City RV Park at about 4 a.m. on Oct. 1. He said it looked like a mother and an adolescent.
“The mother is a good size bear, and the adolescent is about three-fourths her size,” he said.
Trozzo continued up State Street, and when he got to Wind Valley Lodge, he spotted the bears near the railroad tracks on the other side of the street.
The larger bear hissed, growled and false-charged Trozzo twice.
“It was my 12th bear encounter, but by far the worst,” he said. “I was so scared because I really thought I was going to be dead. I still have that growl in my head.”
Leggett said officers have been hazing the bears, chasing them with cars and shooting them with rubber bullets, but the bears are running when they see SPD vehicles.
Because the bears have proven to be aggressive and have charged at least two people, and because Halloween is around the corner and children will be walking outside after dark, SPD plans to kill the bears after the next town sighting,
Leggett said the Department of Fish and Game is aware of the situation. Because it’s hunting season, Leggett asked game officials if they could have hunters shoot the bears. But as per regulation, if a hunter kills a brown bear for sport or otherwise during hunting season, they are not allowed to kill another one for four years. So, Leggett said, officers will probably have to do it.
“I’m not trying to go out there and kill bears; I’m trying to keep people safe,” he said. “The safety of the people in this town is the primary importance. We’re up against a wall on this.”
Leggett said his hope is for better bear-aware garbage practices.
“Fish and Game suggested we get bear-proof trash cans,” he said with a smirk. The Municipality of Skagway has held many meetings and had many discussions on bear-proof or bear-resistant garbage cans but has been unable to reach an agreement.
Leggett said his hope is that the municipality tries to find a trash solution during the fall season.
“Whether it be bear-resistant trash cans or a Dumpster at the end of each alley way, I hope we can move toward some kind of resolution,” he said. “It’s going to take a realistic combined effort to come up with a answer to this problem.”
Even if residents put their garbage out between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on garbage day, as Skagway’s Public Works department is asking, it will not prevent a bear from getting to it before the garbage truck does, Leggett said.
“And we cannot ticket people for putting their garbage out on garbage day,” he said.
Leggett said the best thing residents can do now is be bear aware and contact the police department if they experience any encounters.
Skagway elects new assemblymen Burnham, Hanson; unopposed Brown and Hischer easily win school board seats
By KATIE EMMETS
Gary Hanson and Steve Burnham Jr. were elected to the Skagway Borough Assembly Oct. 2, ousting incumbent and 15-year assembly member Dave Hunz.
In the same election, incumbent Stuart Brown and write-in candidate John Hischer were elected to the Skagway School Board. They ran unopposed.
According to the final certfied results, 403 Skagway residents voted in the municipal election, about a 40 percent turnout.
Hanson received 297 votes, Burnham received 289, and Hunz received 144.
The new assemblymen were sworn in on Oct. 8.
“I was shocked, but grateful and appreciative to have the support of the community,” Hanson said.
Hanson said he has always been on the periphery of Skagway politics.
He was heavily involved in the creation of Clean Sweep and Skagway’s recycling program in the 90s, and since retiring as the Skagway ferry terminal manager in 2006, he has served on Skagway’s port commission, harbor advisory board, arts council, and the outdoor arts facility committee.
Being involved has helped keep Hanson in the know when it comes to some of the municipality’s latest happenings and issues.
“I am briefed really well on the AIDEA lease and the White Pass lease negotiations because I was on the port commission,” he said. “But some of the other issues – I have a lot of homework to do.”
In an Oct. 4 assembly meeting, Mayor Stan Selmer told Hanson he would be taking over as Public Safety chair.
Hanson said he is surprised by this appointment and is excited to work with Skagway’s police and fire departments.
“It’s a very important committee,” he said. “When I was looking at the (municipal) budget, I noticed that thirty percent of it is police and fire.”
Burnham, who came in second by eight votes, said it felt great to be elected by Skagway residents who are willing to give him a chance to represent them.
“It’s not something I take lightly,” he said. “It’s really is an honor.”
At the time of the election, Burnham was serving on the Skagway Planning and Zoning Commission and on a mayor appointed ad hoc recycling committee. Burnham has also served on the Skagway Historic District Commission.
As former chair of the recycling committee, Burnham said he is most familiar with the municipality’s recycling program, garbage practices and its incinerator; but he has also kept up with port proceedings, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Emission Control Area rule and the “garbage bear phenomenon.”
During the Oct.r 4 meeting, Selmer announced that Burnham would be appointed Public Works chair, and Burnham said he is excited about it.
“I think I will do well in this capacity, and I am thrilled to get to collaborate with the public works department and its employees,” he said.
Though Burnham is experienced in the trash aspect of the department, he recognizes that trash is not all that’s involved, he said, adding that he thinks most important municipal project to conclude is the wastewater treatment plant.
The meeting on Oct. 4 was the last one for Hunz and Tim Cochran, who chose not to run again.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Stan Selmer extended his “deepest gratitude” to both of them.
“I know that you never get played for what you do give to your community,” Selmer said. “Both in your personal lives and your political lives, so thank you from me, I really appreciate your help.”
Hunz, via teleconference, said it has been a honor to serve Skagway for the last 15 years.
Since he was elected to the then Skagway City Council, Hunz has worked on projects such as Skagway’s Small Boat Harbor, the repaving of Alaska Street and the expansion of the Skagway Recreation Center.
“Thanks to the past and present council and assembly and mayors,” he said.
Cochran also thanked those sitting at the table with him and said serving on the assembly was his way to give back to the community.
“We don’t always agree, but it’s been a pleasure to serve with all you guys and serve the community,” he said to his fellow assemblymen.
Cochran said he is looking forward to spending time with his son, who is in his senior year of high school, but he will not be away for good.
“I will probably be a fixture in the back like I was seven years prior to the three years I’ve been up here on the bench,” he said. “I’ll definitely be in the audience.”
Assembly members thanked their departing co-members during the mayor/assembly discussion part of the meeting.
“I’d like to echo a great job to Assembly member Tim Cochran for doing a great job on the assembly,” Henry said. “And a big thanks to Dave Hunz.”
Henry said he was elected to the assembly a year after Hunz, and he remarked on how long Dave has been serving his community.
“Thank you for your service to your town, Dave and Tim both, and I hope you enjoy your Thursdays elsewhere,” Henry said jokingly.
Selmer said he is happy to have Hanson and Burnham join the assembly.
“They are astute, new blood and I have been very impressed with Steve’s work on the ad hoc recycling committee and Gary’s work on the port commission.”
Stuart Brown and John Hischer, who were elected to the Skagway School Board, ran unopposed.
Brown received 277 votes and Hischer received 128 write-in votes.
They were both sworn in at an Oct. 9 special meeting.
Hischer said he is very excited to be on the school board and enjoyed his first meeting.
He added he is looking forward to exploring the possibilities for the Title 3 funding.
Brown said he feels great to be re-elected to the school board, but he wished that more people would run.
“Running unopposed isn’t the greatest thing in the world,” he said.
Brown, who also was elected the new board president by his peers, said it would be nice to get other members of the community interested in running for the school board, but he understands it takes a lot of time and commitment.
“I’m glad to see some younger people, like John, getting on the board,” he said. “I think John is going to be a great asset in a lot of different dimensions with his career as a counselor and his educational background.”
Board member Christine Ellis chose not to run for another term.
“I will still be around,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to keep an ear to the ground to make sure these guys are doing it right.”
Ellis was on the board for the last 12 years, nine as president.
“The students were always the best part of being on the board,” she said. “They never stopped impressing me.
At the Oct. 9 meeting, she sat in the audience next to former school board member Joann Korsmo. When the meeting was over, the school board celebrated Ellis’s years of service with a large carrot cake.
International discussion held on potential for West Creek hydro
By KATIE EMMETS
In an October 4 meeting in Skagway, municipal, state and Yukon government authorities and utility companies were able to weigh in on the potential of a hydroelectric power project at West Creek.
Last year marked the fourth year of the Alaska Energy Authority Renewable Energy Fund Grant and the fourth year the Municipality of Skagway was denied funding for a West Creek feasibility study.
“We thought we had a really good chance last year,” said Mayor Stan Selmer. “But we were denied twice.”
In 2011 Skagway applied to the program and asked for a $236,000 with a $59,000 local match.
When the municipality applied this year, it bumped up its local match to $84,000.
The study was initially denied funding in December, but after receiving an appeal letter from the municipality, the AEA revoked its denial. Unfortunately Skagway was ranked below the tier that received money.
In front of about 20 people gathered at City Hall, Selmer gave a presentation on what the potential hydroelectricity created by West Creek could do.
One of the main purposes of building a hydro project at West Creek, Selmer said, is to reduce cruise ship pollution.
“We have a tremendous amount of cruise ship smoke,” he said. “It is apparent to the smell and the taste, and the hemlock trees are impacted at the 1,500 foot level.”
Selmer said the cruise ship smog in Skagway is 18 times greater than that in Glacier Bay.
“We’ve been anxiously waiting to see if there’s a possibility to build a West Creek hydro project to eliminate the smoke,” he said. “And the cruise ships would be anxious for a power source with the new Environmental Protection Authority’s Emission Control Area rule.”
The EPA’s new rule could greatly raise the cost of cruise ship operations when ships switch to the mandated lower sulfur content fuel.
“But right now, we don’t have a clue if we could build a hydro project at West Creek,” Selmer said. “And we won’t know until a feasibility study is done.”
Alaska Power & Telephone President Bob Grimm put together preliminary information about West Creek, which included pricing and some project specifics.
According to AP&T research, West Creek Hydro has the potential to be a 25 megawatt capacity project.
“May through September, Skagway could power its cruise ships and still have additional energy,” Grimm said.
West Creek could potentially generate 25 gigawatts per hour, which could go toward powering cruise ships, and it could produce up to 40 GWh additionally that the municipality could sell to the Yukon to help it meet its growing electric demands.
Mayor Stan Selmer, standing right, and other participants listen to Alaska Energy Authority Deputy Director Gene Therriault, standing center left in back row, during the energy meeting in Skagway. Jeff Brady
A hydro project created at West Creek would be a storage project, which means it will generate power year round. According to AP&T research, West Creek could generate about 45 GWh October through April.
“The 45 gigs in the winter might be of interest to the Yukon, too,” he added.
Grimm said AP&T executives think the construction of a West Creek project would cost $150 million, adding that this potential project could be a 100-200 year investment.
“People might think the Skagway Borough looking to a hydro project at West Creek is a bad idea because AP&T isn’t interested in it,” Grimm said. “But it’s just a larger type of project that doesn’t fit our utility needs now. It doesn’t mean it’s not a good project. West Creek is a bonafide option if the municipality wants to use it for cruise ships.”
Yukon Government Director of Energy and Resource Policy Shirley Abercrombie said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski is “quite interested in a possible sale of hydroelectricity to the Yukon.
Abercrombie said the Yukon is close to reaching electrical maximum capacity because of a record mining year in 2011 and a booming tourism economy, with more than $300 million of international money being spent last year.
Yukon Energy Vice President Michael Brandt, a former White Pass vice president, said his company shares Skagway’s vision for energy and is a ready partner.
“That is why the MOU was signed,” Brandt said in reference to a memorandum of understanding between the Municipality of Skagway and Yukon Energy in regards to energy. “We are looking to explore opportunities together and investigate synergies.”
Two new mining companies, Victoria Gold Corp. and Eagle Industrial Metal, have expressed a power need for mining projects in the coming years.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about our rates and our rate payers,” he said. “And the key word at the end of the day is sustainability.”
Brandt said the Yukon’s lowest supply of hydropower is in the winter – when the territory needs it the most.
“We could go broke burning diesel,” he said. “And though there is no all-green solution, hydro emits the lowest amount of greenhouse gas.”
But because there is a realization that a West Creek hydro project might take a few years to complete, Brandt said Yukon Energy is looking into importing liquefied natural gas, LNG, from British Columbia and Alberta in the meantime.
“Liquefied natural gas is way cheaper than diesel, and it’s coming at us like a tsunami,” he said of the flourishing LNG market.
“While Skagway is constructing a West Creek project, we can set up a transmission cable and send you power in the meantime,” he said, adding that the cruise ship industry might be interested in LNG because it addresses issues with new EPA regulations.
Brandt said he expects the LNG to be available by 2014 and Yukon Energy could have a potential five-year contract with Shell.
But in regards to a long-term hydropower sale commitment between Yukon energy and the Municipality of Skagway, Brandt said his company is in.
“In terms of best options, this is it,” he said. “This is better than LNG.”
Yukon Energy has had to plan ahead on the power front and realizes there are some beautiful options when it comes to hydroelectricity from West Creek.
“The short answer is you would get it in writing,” he said. “And this agreement might outlast some of our long term customers.”
Jim Strandberg of Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority used to be a project manager for AEA.
He said the municipality has taken a proactive approach with AEA in order to get money appropriated from the grant program, but he mentioned that Skagway shouldn’t count AIDEA out when it comes to funding for the study.
“AIDEA is working closely with AEA on the development of high capital projects like West Creek,” he said. “The municipality should look to AIDEA as a potential financier of the project.”
Strandberg said the municipality should focus on fostering relationships with potential partners such as cruise ship companies and Yukon utility companies.
After hearing from Skagway and Yukon representatives, Alaska Energy Authority Deputy Director Gene Therriault weighed in with his thoughts.
“Part of my job is to identify the potential problems, so while it’s still early, you can get answers and sweep them to the side,” Therriault said.
Though power already flows freely at numerous points between the United States and Canada, he said, the possibility of establishing the first electric connection between Alaska and Canada may trigger the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, especially if the power has any chance of flowing through the Canadian system and into the continental United States power grid.
Though Therriault said he thinks there is only a small chance of a complication with FERC arising, he plans on conducting more research to be certain.
He added that discussions need to happen between the municipality and the Yukon to figure out how the parties would equally share the risk of the project, because the municipality doesn’t want the burden to fall on local ratepayers.
Therriault said the AEA Renewable Energy Fund Grant is not designed to pay for the entirety of projects, but rather to help with the initial costs and expenditures of high-risk projects.
“The first dollar you spend is the riskiest dollar,” he said. “Because you don’t know if that project could support itself.”
The municipality sent in its AEA renewable energy grant application in September and should receive results in December.
NEW TO TOWN FEATURE: Skagway welcomes new health care provider: Dana Mathis
SWEET FAREWELL – Chris Ellis cuts a slice of a cake presented to her by the Skagway School Board for her “12 looooong years” of service to the district. Ellis decided not to run again this fall. Katie Emmets
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
School thinking about adding teacher with forest receipts money from borough
The Skagway School could potentially receive almost $450,000 from the Skagway Borough Assembly as part of a federal Title 3D fund earmarked for school education, said Superintendent Jefferie Thielbar at an Oct. 9 special meeting.
“I was contacted by the municipality and told money may be available through timber funds,” he said. “But the funds can only be used in a very specific manner.”
The fund had about $447,000, Thielbar said, and it has been building for 12 years. Ten years ago the municipality received a check for $128,000, he said, but this year, it received $28,000.
“The money is dwindling,” he said. “If I had a crystal ball, I would say this is the last year for this fund.”
Thielbar said the municipality was holding it in what they described as a “rainy day account.” Though the assembly gets the final say in what the money would be used for, Thielbar said Mayor Stan Selmer has asked the superintendent and the school board to decide what they would like to use it for, and the municipality will act accordingly.
“We can take this money and it won’t mess with our cap or affect our carryover,” Thielbar told the school board.
There is no window or time limit the school board has to spend the money. After the recent loss of a science teacher position, Thielbar suggested the board think about hiring a teacher with a master’s degree to teach science.
“A master teacher’s salary for five years is $450,503, and five years is how long we are projected to be in this slump,” he said. “At the end of the five years, hopefully we will be in a financial situation where we can pick it up in our budget.
New board member John Hischer was the first to speak on the matter and made a suggestion that the money could be put towards a foreign language teacher.
“I think a pre-K through 12th grade foreign language teacher would be the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “If you look at the impact foreign language does for their future in education and careers — I think it would have the greatest impact of success on our students.”
Hischer said he realizes the school has the Rosetta Stone program, but he said nothing takes the place of a real teacher.
Board member Darren Belisle said he would like to se a vocational education teacher at Skagway School.
“I think a lot of students get swept under the rug because they don’t want to go to college,” he said, adding that a lot of Skagway School’s graduates go on to work in construction and other vocational areas.
The school board came to an agreement that it will write the municipality a letter stating that the school would like to use the funds for instructional purposes.– KE
Steve Burnham Jr, left, his wife Kim, and Gary Hanson review agenda items at the Oct. 4 meeting. Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)
Vote could mean end of local Chamber of Commerce
After several weeks of Chamber of Commerce discussion, Mayor Stan Selmer and a chamber member will meet with Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue in an attempt to dissolve the chamber into the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
This comes after the mayor broke a tied assembly to end further funding for the chamber.
The assembly gave the chamber $45,000 in April 2011, which Selmer said was supposed to last until June of 2012.
Chamber board member Jaime Bricker tried to convince the assembly to continue funding, and explained the history behind the request.
“When we first approached the assembly in 2011, the $45,000 that was asked for was a new office manager,” she said.
Seven years ago, Bricker said, long-time office manager Sharon Bolton left the chamber but has still had to help out in a bookkeeping capacity, because the chamber hasn’t been able to fund a full-time position. With Mero, Bolton doesn’t have to be involved anymore.
When the chamber found out it wasn’t going to be funded the full $45,000 (for the current fiscal year), it made some attempts at membership drives and fundraisers but realized the efforts weren’t working.
“Looking at our budget we realize we have until April, if things continue they way they are going, until we can’t pay an office manager anymore,” she said. “And we end up in the same position we’ve been in year after year after year, struggling to find funding.”
In all fairness to Mero, Tronrud said, the chamber needs to know whether they will be spending the next six months signing over its duties to another organization and closing its doors, or if it can continue to support a full time office manager and carry on.
“It’s been an absolute struggle for six or seven years,” she said. “We weren’t surviving with a part-time manager either, because we can’t afford to pay somebody who has the ability to be our accountant and book keeper for $25,000 a year.”
Without punishing its membership and raising dues, the chamber has not been able to come up with a concrete money-making idea, she said.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said he hates to see the chamber fold because it is an asset to the community.
“The things that they do are going to fall on CVB or City Hall,” he said.
Cochran suggested the municipality try raising the business license fee from $10 per year, as was suggested during FY13 budget discussions.
“We could try that, but if not, I think we’re going to end up incurring a lot more costs internally than what it costs to keep a person on full time for $45,000,” he said.
Selmer said the municipality funds the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau and Skagway Development Corporation, and $22,500 went into the chamber, even though the chamber is not a municipal department.
“And the municipality seems reluctant to change the $10 business license to a different amount to include a chamber membership,” he said.
Assemblyman Dan Henry said he thinks the assembly has gone as far as it can go in this discussion and suggested that increasing a business license is the equivalent of holding a gun to the head of each business owner to join the chamber.
“If they saw a benefit of being a member, they would do so,” Henry said.
As a business owner himself, Henry said he sees no benefit for the Fish Co. to be a member of the chamber whem it can advertise in The Skagway News. “I see value in that, I get response, I get return from that,” he said of the ads.
Henry said he sees no benefits in a membership fee and hasn’t for the last eight years he has been removed from the chamber.
To move the discussion along, Henry made an affirmative motion that the assembly fund the chamber through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The vote was tied with Hunz, Cochran and Assemblyman Mark Schafer voting yes and Henry, Korsmo and Assemblyman Paul Reichert voting no.
Selmer broke the tie with a “no” vote and the motion failed. – KE