October 25, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 19
The Rev. Ryan Mandeville, left, blesses Hector the speckled Sussex rooster of Steve Burnham Jr., right, during the first-ever Animal Blessing at the Rec. Center last Saturday night. See more photos on page 6 of our print edition.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Jim Sager appointed to Schaefer’s assembly seat
Process questioned before appointment approved
By KATIE EMMETS
After one recommendation, two meetings and two times being sworn into office, Jim Sager is officially the newest Skagway Borough Assembly member and will serve a one-year term.
Sager replaces Mark Schaefer at the table after Schaefer was elected mayor, and his appointment was unanimously approved in an October 17 assembly meeting.
Schaefer recommended Sager to fill his seat in an Oct. 15 special meeting, however, in the regularly scheduled Oct. 17 meeting, Schaefer said the appointment of Sager at the special meeting wasn’t official and needed to be redone.
“Skagway’s municipal code states that assembly special meetings are subject specific, and if an item isn’t listed in the notice of a special meeting it cannot be addressed in that special meeting,” Schaefer said. “We have reviewed the situation with our attorney, and he advises we take this item up again at this meeting, including taking action to fill the vacant seat.”
During the Oct. 15 special meeting, the assembly appointed Sager to fill the vacant assembly seat with a 4-1 vote.
During the discussion, Assemblyman Gary Hanson, who cast the no vote, said he didn’t think the assembly should be making the appointment during a special meeting, because it wasn’t on the agenda and there was no public notice.
“I think it should be discussed in a more public forum,” Hanson said. “Maybe since it is such an important decision, there may be some (residents) who want to weigh in on that.”
Assemblyman Dan Henry told Hanson that the appointment usually comes under the mayor’s report because it’s not something the public weighs in on. Henry added that he has never seen an appointment on the agenda.
“It is left up to the mayor to make a suggestion and then the assembly can either object or not object,” Henry said. “It’s not an agenda item that goes through the public process, exhausted through discussion, hearing citizens present and the like.”
Henry added that he had been on the assembly for the last six appointments, which had all been done this way. But Hanson said he still thought the appointment should be on the agenda for the regularly scheduled October 17 meeting. “It just feels like we’re not giving proper notice here,” he said.
Hanson went on to say that he doesn’t object to placing Sager on the assembly, but he thinks the candidate who came in third place in the Oct. 1 election should be considered for the seat.
The Oct. 1 regularly scheduled election was held to elect one mayor and two assembly members. Mark Schaefer ran unopposed winning the mayors seat; Assemblyman Tim Cochran received 215 votes, Assemblyman Spencer Morgan received 195 votes, Christophe “Duppy” Ticarro came in third receiving 156 votes and Tyler Rose came in fourth receiving 104 votes.
“I don’t have any objections, per se, (to) Jim Sager,” Hanson said. “I think I’ve talked to Jim myself and tried to talk him into running for office, and I’m happy to hear he’s interested in taking the job, however we do know that Duppy put himself out there for election and received, I think, about 135 votes.”
Henry told him the election wasn’t to elect the top three candidates; it was to elect the top two.
Morgan said the fact that Ticarro ran for the seat shows a willingness to serve his community.
“I have talked to Duppy on many occasions,” he said. “For the record I think he would be a pretty good member up here. But I understand it doesn’t come down to a vote, there is no third place for an alternate seat.”
But Morgan said he agrees that Sager would make a good assemblyman and added that he worked for Sager for many years.
The appointment of Sager to the assembly passed with only one objection from Hanson.
After the meeting, Morgan wanted to make sure the assembly followed the proper protocol and found in code that the assembly can’t discuss items in a special meeting that aren’t on the agenda.
In the Oct. 17 meeting, Hanson opened the discussion with reiterating his position from two nights before.
Despite the fact that he thinks Sager would make a good assemblyman, Hanson initially said he would vote against appointing him and believes the assembly should select Ticarro.
Henry said the election process in Skagway works much like other communities across the nation work.
“We were not asking for who your three best candidates are. We were not asking, ‘if you could put them in order, how would they rate?’” Henry said.
Henry said each mayor he has sat at the table with has recommended a community member to fill a vacant seat, from Tim Bourcy appointing Tom Cochran, to Cochran appointing Schaefer.
“Stan Selmer back in ’90 recommended Boyd Worley, even though Emily Olson was third high vote getter,” he said. “It’s the way this community has set up the process to work. Every single solitary one I’ve seen in the last 17 years has worked like that.”
Morgan said because Sager didn’t throw his hat in the ring for the election, he didn’t know what his positions are on important municipal issues and didn’t feel comfortable voting for him because of it. Though he thinks Sager would make a good addition to the table, the fact that Ticarro ran for election and answered questions to the News and KHNS means something to him.
Schaefer said neither Ticarro or Rose approached him and asked to be appointed, nor did anyone ask him to appoint Ticarro or Rose. People, however, did ask Schaefer to consider appointing Sager to the assembly.
“He’s been committed to this community, and he’s been committed to civic service for a number of years,” he said. “He’s a reasonable thinker. I think he has a rational thought process, and I thought that he was somebody this table could live with.”
Schaefer said he has received only positive comments about Sager’s potential appointment.
After hearing Schaefer’s reasons for recommending Sager, the assembly voted with no objection to appoint Sager to the assembly. He was sworn in immediately afterward during a break.
“I am grateful and honored to be given an opportunity to serve the community in a new capacity,” Sager said. “The position of borough assemblyman is one I have long considered an area I would like to throw my hat into the ring but was reluctant to pull the trigger because of family.”
At this point, however, Sager said he and his family decided he has the time to commit to this level of community involvement without adversely affecting his family. Though he has given some thought to running in the next election, he said he would reserve judgment for a later date to make sure he’s not overdoing and leaving himself out there.
Sager was most recently the chair of the Convention and Visitors Bureau board, of which he has been a member of since 2000. Sager has also been an active member of the Skagway community through the Elks lodge, a volunteer with soccer and hoop shoot contests, annual veterans dinners and the Chamber of Commerce Clean Sweep.
Sager has lived in Skagway for the last 22 years, which he says gives him a good understanding of the community’s wants and needs. He has a degree in accounting and is well versed in finance at the corporate and city level.
“The love and passion for my home gives me the perspective of wanting to see this city develop and prosper.
Borough sends Dan Henry to Florida to negotiate
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway Borough Assembly on Oct. 17 voted without objection to send Assemblyman Dan Henry to Florida to negotiate with White Pass and Yukon Route railway President John Finlayson and ClubLink Enterprises Ltd. CEO and Chairman Rai Sahi to come up with terms to allow the municipality access to the Skagway Ore Dock for the construction of its Gateway Project.
Henry, the municipality’s negotiator, said he, Finlayson and Sahi are going to sit down face-to-face and discuss what the parameters would be for an agreement that allows the Municipality of Skagway access to the ore terminal to further the Gateway Project.
Henry will be traveling to Coral Springs, Fla., by himself, which the municipality will be paying for.
“We don’t need an entourage to go there as we sent in January,” he said of a trip earlier this year that had the mayor, borough manager, borough attorney and himself traveling to Florida to meet with Sahi, Finlayson and former White Pass President Eugene Hretzay. “It’s a waste of resources.”
Henry said it is typical of negotiations for single representatives to meet and bring their findings back to a third party, which for Henry is the assembly.
“I’m going to go down and try to hammer out a deal that would be the best possible deal for the Municipality of Skagway within the scope of what White Pass would like to see that would be advantageous for them to make the deal to let us have access for the Gateway Project,” he said. “I will come back to the assembly at the first meeting in November and say ‘ok, this is what we can get done.’ We can tweak it and bring it back to them, or say yes or no.”
No matter what he negotiates in Florida, Henry said, the assembly will be voting on the terms.
Henry said he is traveling to Florida for the discussion, because it is where Finlayson manages several ClubLink Enterprises Limited golf properties in the winter.
“Mr. Finlayson had been here all summer right down on 2nd Ave. at the White Pass Depot, and we were unable to make any movement happen on the negotiations,” Henry said. “For 150 days in a row, we did nothing. That’s as accurate as I can put it.”
Henry said the negotiating team didn’t have any substantial conversations with Finlayson while he was in town and used ineffective approaches.
“He was sitting here willing and able to hash it out,” Henry said. “But our position in the past has been ‘we get everything and you get nothing.’ It needs to be both sides getting some, both sides giving some, and both sides coming out winning.”
Henry said he plans to ask Finlayson and Sahi what conditions they are flexible on and what their must-haves are, tell them what conditions the municipality could be flexible on and what its must-haves are, and seeing if the three of them can meld them together.
“We know White Pass wants to be in a good position with their future,” he said. “And we need to make progress.”
Henry said while the municipality isn’t at its final deadline for the Gateway Project, the deadline is getting closer.
“We are looking at the timetables and the design, RFP, award, getting the financing in line,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts and we are getting close to the 11th hour in my mind.”
Henry said there is no way to know if they are getting close to wrapping the close to two-year long negotiations up until after his visit to Florida next week.
‘Reward School’ honors from state for Skagway
The Alaska Department of Education & Early Development has named Skagway School a 2013 Reward School to honor its student achievement from the 2012-13 academic year.
According to an Oct. 22 ADE&ED release, the Reward Schools designation, which is in its first year, is part of the new Alaska School Performance Index that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act this year.
Of Alaska’s 503 public schools, which include home school organizations and charter schools, 49 were recognized in some capacity as Reward Schools.
Skagway School was one of 19 public learning institutions statewide to qualify as both a highest-performing school and a high-progress school.
“I’m extremely excited that we are recognized on the state stage,” said Skagway School Superintendent Joshua Coughran. “For Skagway School to have achieved Reward status in both of those categories is incredible.
To qualify for reward status as a highest-performing school, the school must be in the top 10 percent of schools in its grade span based on its score under the ASPI. Over the two most recent years, the school must have a graduation rate that averaged at least 85 percent and it must have met its goal for increasing the percentage of students who are proficient in reading, writing and math.
To qualify for reward status as a high-progress school, the school must be in the highest 10 percent of all schools in the Growth and Proficiency Index, which measures whether a student population in a school is increasing, remaining stable, or declining in achievement in reading, writing, and math from one year to the next. It must have an average score of at least 95 in the index over the past three years for all students, and must have an average index score of at least 90 in the most recent year for subgroups Alaska Native/American Indian students, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. The graduation rate must average at least 85 percent over the two most recent years
Coughran said Skagway School’s Reward Status verifies what Skagway School teachers and staff have known for a long time – that Skagway School is one of the best in the state when it comes to progress and performance.
In order to see where their school ranked in the past, Skagway School teachers and staff would have to compare district report cards. Coughran said his school was always near the top of the list.
“This is really reassuring and puts us on a path of maintaining academic excellence while offering more opportunities for our students,” he said.
Coughran said the school would be receiving two banners from the state, one for being a highest-performing school and one for being a high-progress school, which will be hung in the hallway for all to see. – KE
Park reopens, takes advantage of nice fall weather for outdoor projects, planning
After 15 full days of closed doors, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park resumed normal operations on October 17 along with other federal agencies, parks, museums, and monuments after Congress passed a budget deal that allowed the government to reopen.
“We would definitely prefer to have been working the whole time, but we're glad to be back at doing what we love – protecting and sharing one of America's special places,” said Klondike Park Superintendent Mike Tranel.
With only two exceptions, a maintenance worker and a law enforcement ranger, about 30 KGRNHP permanent employees were out of the office from October 1 to October 16. The government went into partial shutdown mode after Congress did not pass a stopgap budget on September 30, but a deal was reached last week to keep the doors open at least until early next year.
In an earlier interview, Tranel said the shutdown halted the planning stages of a remodeled visitor center with several new exhibits. The construction on the visitor center needs to be completed before the summer season, which means planning early on is important, he said. “It's definitely a setback for some of our projects and with planning for next season, but we'll do all we can to make up for lost time.”
This week, KGRNHP employees have been seen around town putting up storm windows in preparation for cold winter temperatures. Tranel said the windows wouldn’t be put on the park buildings or any leased buildings until the government reopened.
“We're glad to be back in time to take advantage of the remaining fall weather for outdoor projects and to participate in school and community activities,” he said. – KE
Former Skagway resident, now Commissioner Susan Bell, signs the MOU with Yukon counterparts Scott Kent and Currie Dixon. Katie Emmets
Alaska, Yukon sign power, telecommunications MOU
By KATIE EMMETS
Representatives of Alaska and Yukon governments met in Skagway on Oct. 11 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to assess the feasibility of developing electrical and telecommunications connections between the Yukon and Southeast Alaska.
The memorandum is an appendix of the Alaska-Yukon Intergovernmental Relations Accord signed by Premier Darrell Pasloski and Governor Sean Parnell in June 2012, in which they addressed the similarities and relationships between Yukon and Alaska and pledged to continue working together on matters of joint concern and mutual interest.
Both Alaska and the Yukon will be providing $150,000 in funding for the feasibility of this linkage as part of the MOU.
Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer said he was pleased Skagway could host the important event.
“The Yukon, the State of Alaska and the Municipality of Skagway continue to build and strengthen their relationship for the good of all parties involved,” Schaefer said. “Energy and communication transmission through the transportation corridor are of vital importance to the region.”
Schaefer said projects regarding the MOU are already underway and started with the stream gauging of West Creek as part of a hydropower feasibility study the municipality and the State of Alaska have provided funding for.
Schaefer said the Yukon government would also be studying the potential for power and telecommunication transmission, which will be discussed in future meetings between Southeast Alaska and the Yukon.
Alaska Energy Authority Deputy Director Gene Therriault and the Yukon Government’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Shirley Abercrombie have been designated to keep the progress moving forward as the two governments explore and evaluate the economics of the corridor and the transition of energy and telecommunications between Whitehorse and Skagway, Therriault said.
Alaska Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Susan Bell was chosen to sign the MOU for the Alaska government, and Yukon Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Scott Kent and Yukon Economic Development Minister Currie Dixon were chosen to sign the MOU for the Yukon government.
Bell, a lifelong Alaskan originally from Nome, said she has spent the last 25 years in Southeast and used to live in Skagway.
“Geographically and culturally, there’s so many ties we have and many shared interests,” she said of Southeast Alaska and the Yukon.
Kent, who has lived in the Yukon for 40 years, said he has seen a lot of changes over the years, but many things still remain constant.
“Everybody knows that the Skagway to Whitehorse economic corridor is thousands of years old,” he said. “From early First Nations using it as a trade route, to, of course, the Chilkoot and the White Pass and the South Klondike Highway.”
Kent said the signing of the MOU is a natural progression of the opportunity, friendships and partnerships that exist between the Yukon and Alaska.
Dixon, who was born and raised in the Yukon, said he has spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between Skagway and the Yukon.
“It’s very exciting for me not only as a Minister of Economic Development but as a Yukoner to see this sort of step forward,” he said. “The relationship between Yukon and Alaska is deeply engrained in our history, in our cultural societies, and importantly, in our economies.”
Dixon said energy resources and oil and gas are often discussed when referencing the MOU between Alaska and the Yukon, but he said the Yukon is excited about the telecommunications aspect.
“We think that is the way of the future — the digital economy,” he said. “We’re very excited about the project we have underway with Alaska looking at the possibility of telecommunications fiber optic cable linkage through Skagway to Juneau.”
Bell said the agreement brings potential benefits to both parties from an increased availability of broadband.
“To examine the feasibility for increasing fiber optic networks that would potentially connect in Juneau and perhaps include a Ketchikan to Prince Rupert link, as well as potential energy projects, is welcome news for Southeast Alaska,” she said in a release. “Communications infrastructure and affordable energy are the foundations needed to build strong communities.”
Skagway Small Boat Harbor tops municipality capital projects list
The Skagway Borough Assembly voted unanimously to lead a capital improvements project priority list with Skagway Small Boat Harbor renovations followed by the Port Gateway Project in hopes for funding from Governor Sean Parnell’s fiscal year 2015 budget.
Following the harbor renovations and Gateway Project are Public Safety Building third, a Klondike Highway Bike Path fourth, Main Street sidewalk replacement at fifth, and Main Street repaving sixth.
Going into the discussion in an Oct. 17 meeting, the list reflected the public safety building second on the list, and the Gateway Project was third.
Assemblyman Dan Henry opened up discussion by saying he felt the Gateway Project should be second, and the public safety building third.
“In a perfect world, if we could do the Gateway Project and the small boat harbor in concert, that would be ideal,” he said. “’Cause then we can take the fill from the small boat harbor and get that 20 feet layer behind the cell over at the Ore Dock.”
Henry says he still sees the Gateway Project as the number one priority, but he’s fine with it being in the second position and suggested it be moved up a slot.
Although he said he agrees with Henry about the small boat harbor renovations and the Gateway Project coinciding with each other and being completed first, Assemblyman Tim Cochran said the reason the public safety building was placed above the Gateway Project is because the public safety building has no state funding right now, whereas the Gateway Project has already received $10 million from the state.
“We have to make (the public safety building) more visible for the legislature,” Cochran said.
Assemblymen Steven Burnham Jr. and Spencer Morgan both said they agreed with the small boat harbor renovations being listed as number one and the Gateway Project as number two.
Morgan said Governor Sean Parnell has championed himself as a public safety governor, so he thinks there will still be visibility with the public safety building in the third position on the list.
“Obviously that would be something in the budget that would still catch their eye,” he said.
Henry made a motion that the list read: 1. Renovation of Small Boat Harbor, 2. Port Gateway Project, 3. Public Safety Building, 4, Klondike Highway Bike Path, 5. Main Street Sidewalk Replacement, 6. Main Street Repaving. Both the amendment and the resolution passed 6-0.
Municipality to study Skagway River floor in hopes to avoid tsunami
After receiving a letter from Bruce Campbell about the potential for the Skagway River delta floor to create a tsunami, the assembly agreed to have studies performed for preventative measures.
Campbell, who investigated the supposed tsunami that destroyed the Railroad Dock in 1994, sent former Mayor Stan Selmer a letter warning that there is potential for the same tsunami effect to happen on October 19, November 4 and December 3 because of extreme low tides.
“He’s warning us that there’s a possibility that the delta of the Skagway River is approaching a point where it may slough off and create a tsunami effect,” he said.
Chad Gubala of Gubala Consulting Inc. was hired without objection by the assembly to conduct tests on the delta earlier this week.
“He will be able to do all the sonar readings and figure out what the underwater delta looks like, how much mass is there,” Hanson said in the October 17 meeting. “He will then be able to send his figures on to NOAA and from there they will be able to extrapolate what we’re looking at down there as far as wave height and how far into town it may or may not go.”
Hanson said he didn’t want to frighten anyone, but the municipality was given a warning, and it might as well check it out.
“I agree that it’s worth checking out and then periodically, maybe every five years, doing a survey of the water, “ Mayor Mark Schaefer said. “It’s a fairly simple thing to do. It’s due diligence.”
If the Skagway River floor shows irregularities, Schaefer said the issue could be mitigated fairly simply by blasting the area with high-pressure water.
Findings of Gubala’s studies will be announced as soon as they become available, but in the meantime, Sara Kinjo Hischer of the Local Emergency Planning Commission recommended the municipality publicly release a statement that warned its residents about potential instability of Skagway River delta sediments, and ask anyone who is living, working or near the area to be cautious of flash floods during low tides.
The 1994 dock collapse was determined to have been caused by a large amount of stockpiled rock behind the dock for its reconstruction, however the engineer on the project tried unsuccessfully to convince the state that sloughing in the river delta caused the event. The resulting tsunami, however its origin, caused the small boat harbor to empty of water and also break the floating ferry dock from its moorings.
Teleconferencing ordinance passes
The Skagway Borough Assembly unanimously passed the second reading of an ordinance that will allow an assembly member or the mayor to ask for the option to teleconference after the maximum of four teleconferenced meetings.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr., who brought this idea to the table, said the code allows a maximum of four teleconferences per year with two meetings in a row. When those teleconferencing uses run out for either an assembly member or a mayor, he or she is not allowed to participate in any further meetings via teleconference if out of town.
“Assemblyman (Gary) Hanson had an emergency and he had to pass an emergency ordinance to allow participation by teleconference and this idea sort of came out of that,” Burnham said.
After some revisions, the ordinance passed with language that allows an assembly member or the mayor to request telephonic participation in one or more additional meetings which would be voted on and granted or not granted by the assembly.
“The mayor or assembly member requesting the additional telephonic participation does not count toward a quorum and may not vote on whether the assembly will allow the telephonic participation,” stated the ordinance. “Requests for additional telephonic participation by the mayor or an assembly member beyond the permitted four shall be prioritized in the order that they are received by the borough clerk in writing.”
Other code amendments include all members being allowed to participate telephonically in emergency assembly meetings if no one is in town.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said he thinks if someone is going to serve at the assembly level, they need to make a commitment to be at meetings at all cost, though he said he understands absences attributed to weather, hospital stays and family emergencies.
“I just don’t want to see this be a vehicle for someone to take advantage and be gone for a month at a time,” he said.
The second reading passed with a 6-0 vote.
AASG students advocate anti-smoking policies
By ZOË WASSMAN
Skagway School Student Council members took away several lessons from the 2013 Fall Alaska Association of Student Government Conference and plan to share them with not only their classmates but with the entire Skagway community.
The purpose of this conference is for students to actively participate in the political process and receive leadership training. Also, this year’s AASG took a new step with an anti-tobacco campaign by bringing in guest speaker Michael Patterson, a smoker since the age of 9.
“My favorite thing about ASSG this year was the anti-tobacco campaign because the guest speaker was heartfelt and honest,” said Student Council President Hannah O’Daniel. “The whole presentation was very powerful.”
Patterson inspired other members of the Skagway student council
“We’d love to have him come in and make a presentation to the school and community,” said Rosalie Westfall, vice president of the student council. “He was very inspiring and made people realize that it isn’t just them affected when they smoke, it’s everyone.”
On the same note, another change occurred at the AASG conference: the passing of a resolution to change the Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Policy on the use of e-cigarettes on school grounds.
Resolutions passed at AASG by students are documents that outline ideas to improve something in a school, community or the state, and can be submitted to, and approved by, the Executive Board of AASG.
The aforementioned resolution suggests a statewide change to ban electronic cigarettes from the grounds of Alaska schools and will be presented to the State Board of Education for final approval.
This resolution is one of many efforts around the state to curb youth tobacco usage.
According to an Alaska Department of Health and Social Services release, smoking among Alaska high school students has declined 40 percent between 2007 and 2013. This is the biggest drop in Alaskan history in 20 years.
“I definitely support this resolution,” O’Daniel said of the attempt to change the TAD policy. “I think getting rid of anything that is harmful to your body in schools is a big step forward. Tobacco use among students is a very big issue that our state needs to recognize and deal with.”
The AASG Executive Board and host school, Juneau-Douglas High School, worked to supply the students with all the information they would need to make a difference in their schools. They provided workshops for ways to begin anti-tobacco campaigns, suicide awareness, bullying prevention, and a plethora of other learning centers including the effects of social media and recycling used materials for art.
“The conference was incredible and the workshops and pods and speakers were all very informative,” Westfall said. “I can’t wait to share my experience and everything I’ve learned over the past week with the community as a whole.”
The next AASG conference is in April 2014, and will be hosted by Ben Eielson High School in Fairbanks.