October 26, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 19
Searching for Shrimper
The F/V Darlin Michele, foreground, and the Skagway tug boat Le Cheval Rouge search the area near the west wall of Taiya Inlet by the lighted marker near where the Haines fishing boat’s skipper, Ted Lynch, went overboard early Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 23). The search was suspended at dark.
Photo by Jeff Brady
White Pass pulls the pin on Eagle ore haul
ClubLink board wants RR focus on tourism; Skagway, Yukon officials very disappointed
By KATIE EMMETS
After two years of promoting the possibility of bringing ore to Skagway via train cars, White Pass and Yukon Route President Eugene Hretzay now says the company will not commit to operating an ore haul on the railroad.
“The business case for the magnetite rail haul has not been met,” wrote Hretzay in a letter addressed to Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer dated Oct. 19.
This news comes exactly one month after a Yukon Chamber of Commerce luncheon at which Hretzay spoke about the benefits of a railroad ore haul. Benefits included the creation of 40 Skagway jobs and savings on shipping costs for mining companies.
During the September 19 luncheon, Chuck Eaton of Whitehorse’s Eagle Industrial Metals said he expects about two million metric tons of iron ore to be transported from his mine to Skagway, and he wanted it to travel by rail. Eagle would be the first mine of several interested in Skagway’s port to be ready to ship, and its projected start date is May 2013.
Though Hretzay said he and Eaton were “singing from the same page” in regard to White Pass shipping Eaton’s iron ore from Carcross to Skagway, Hretzay mentioned the railroad 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.
“I presented the business case, and it was rejected,” Hretzay said in an interview Wednesday, regarding the letter he sent to Selmer last week.
Hretzay said the board has decided it wants to focus its efforts on tourism.
Selmer said the news of White Pass not committing to operating an ore haul is a big shock.
“I felt pretty comfortable at the Chamber of Commerce meeting that we were being given a really strong message that under the right circumstances the railroad wanted to haul freight again,” Selmer said. “There was nothing in either presentation that left me with anything other than the thought of this being the first really good chance since 1982 of hauling freight on the railroad.”
Since the Yukon chamber meeting, municipal officials have been in discussion with consultant Paul Taylor of Pacific Contract Co., LLC, Skagway lobbyist John Walsh and Ted Leonard of Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in an effort to generate ideas on how Skagway could participate in getting a rail ore haul again.
In an Oct. 11 special Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, members discussed the potential of borrowing money from AIDEA to purchase flat cars for the railroad to prepare for Eaton’s projected haul start date next May.
While attending the special meeting via teleconference, Walsh said chamber luncheon attendees were led to believe both Hretzay and Eaton were interested in pursuing a rail option, but they made it clear they did not expect to raise the capital themselves.
“They were encouraging to the audience that this is an opportunity that perhaps others, including governmental entities, should be interested in,” he said.
In both open and executive sessions, the Skagway Borough Assembly discussed doing whatever it had, capital-wise, to make a railroad ore haul work.
But if the assembly and other government entities in both Alaska and the Yukon were making preparations to contribute, Selmer wanted a commitment from White Pass.
“I sent Eugene an e-mail asking if he and Rai Sahi (CEO of ClubLink) could verify that they were strongly committed to this effort,” he said, adding that Hretzay responded with the letter stating White Pass could not commit.
“This was the best chance Skagway had to get the railroad back into the ore haul,’ Selmer said. “I can’t overstate the disappointment I feel about this.”
Though Selmer is down, he is not yet out.
“The decision of White Pass to not participate in the ore haul doesn’t lessen my desire to make Skagway the port I want it to be,” he said.
It also doesn’t lessen Chuck Eaton’s want to use Skagway as Eagle Industrial Metals’ port.
In an interview Tuesday, Eaton said he is surprised with White Pass’s choice but understands that business decisions need to be made at the CEO or board level.
“We’re disappointed the railroad has chosen not to pursue the potential resource of a freight service,” he said. “But they’ve got their own business decisions to make.”
Unless something changes on White Pass’s end, Eaton will truck the iron ore to Skagway.
“That was always kind of the back up plan in case the railroad didn’t come through,” he said.
Eagle will be shipping about 1.9 million metric tons of iron through the Port of Skagway. This operation could take about five to six years, with 30 double trucks coming through Skagway 24 hours a day, seven days a week from May until November next year and April until November in subsequent years.
Though the assembly hasn’t had a chance to discuss where it will go from here, Selmer said members have been clear on the fact that they do not want more than 650,000 tons of ore per year going down State Street by truck.
In a September 14 assembly meeting, Selmer mentioned the possibility of a bypass road for ore trucks through the Seven Pastures area, so they would not have to run through the middle of town. This road could eliminate the need for a trucking cap of 650,000 tons in the potential 2023 AIDEA waterfront lease.
Selmer said he thinks the idea for a bypass road is now in the hands of the State of Alaska, not with the Municipality of Skagway.
The Alaska Department of Transportation has looked into a potential road, Selmer said, but hasn’t shared any information with Selmer.
Selmer said the assembly would be discussing White Pass’s decision to not commit to the ore haul in upcoming November 1 and 8 meetings.
Fishing boat captain missing in Taiya Inlet
By KATIE EMMETS
The U.S. Coast Guard suspended a Taiya Inlet search for a Haines man Tuesday evening Oct. 23 after the man fell overboard from his commercial shrimping boat earlier in the day.
The Coast Guard searched for Theodore L. “Ted” Lynch, 61, in an area of about 20 square miles in the inlet for more than five hours after receiving a report at 12:40 p.m. that he fell overboard from the F/V Darlin Michele.
Like all serious marine incidents, the Coast Guard is performing a routine follow-up investigation, said Lt. Patrick Drayer of Juneau, who said he is looking into reports of possible alcohol involvement that were received during the search and rescue operation.
At about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, the boat’s deckhand and Lynch’s brother-in-law, Terrance Moniz, called the Skagway Police Department 911 line and told officials that Lynch had fallen from the Darlin Michele into the water somewhere between Haines and Skagway.
According to an Alaska State Trooper report, Moniz made three attempts to pull Lynch back into the boat with a life ring before calling for help.
“Lynch was wearing a (personal flotation device) at the time he fell overboard, however it came off when he was being pulled into the vessel a third time,” the report stated.
Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett said Moniz didn’t know how to use the radio onboard the 48-foot gill net boat to radio for help. Moniz was unable to give police an answer as to where the Darling Michele was located, but he kept saying it was somewhere between Skagway and Haines in a “little bay by a hostel.”
Leggett called Wings of Alaska, and a plane traveling northbound from Haines was able to help in determining where the Darlin Michele was located, which was about one mile west of the Skagway harbor, according to the state troopers report.
Leggett said he called Le Cheval Rouge captain Mike Korsmo to assist, because Korsmo had the right vessel for the choppy water conditions and knew the area better than anyone in town. Korsmo was the first marine presence on the scene.
Winds in the bay were reported at 35 MPH with 2-foot seas, a U.S. Coast Guard release stated.
Members of Skagway’s Search and Rescue team also aided in the search, and the Alaska State Trooper’s office sent a boat up as well.
Paul Reichert of Skagway’s TEMSCO Helecopter was also contacted by Leggett to help at about 1 p.m., and Reichert said they had a helicopter flying over the area by 1:30 p.m. for about an hour while the Coast Guard mobilized its aircraft.
“We were really appreciative of the way the community responded,” Leggett said. “As soon as I called Mike Korsmo he said he was on his way, and Paul Reichert and (pilot) Chris Maggio of TEMSCO responded immediately. Those guys knew what they were doing, which was a good thing.”
The Coast Guard was contacted by Skagway police at about 12:40 p.m. and notified of the situation, said Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Erikson.
A Coast Guard HC-130 plane on a mission from Air Station Sacramento, Calif., was in the area and was asked to aid in the search, and an H-60 Jayhawk helicopter was deployed from Air Station Sitka, Erikson said.
The search was suspended at 6:06 p.m. because of nightfall.
The F/V Darlin Michele is a gill netter that was working as a commercial shrimping boat. It is owned and captained by Lynch.
Haines trooper Ken VanSpronsen told the Chilkat Valley News that Lynch and Moniz left Haines Boat Harbor at 9 a.m. and were along the west wall of the Taiya Inlet in about 180 feet of water. The pair was in the process of pulling the last two strings of shrimp pots into the boat when Lynch fell into the water.
A Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk helicopter searches a grid along Taiya Inlet near Skagway Tuesday, Oct. 23. Fisherman Ted Lynch was not found. Jeff Brady
It wasn’t clear if Lynch slipped or the boat was hit broadside by a wave, the trooper said. Moniz threw a tethered life ring to Lynch and was able to get him near the boat, but unable to bring him aboard, VanSpronsen said.
The gunwales of the 48-foot Darlin Michelle, a Navy-style vessel, are about seven feet off the waterline, he said. There are recessed steps down the vessel’s stern, but Moniz was attempting to hoist Lynch from the side of the boat, VanSpronsen said.
The boat was docked at the Skagway Small Boat Harbor Tuesday night, and Moniz was flown back to Haines on a plane.
In an interview on Wednesday morning, Drayer said he would fly to Haines on Thursday to conduct interviews with Moniz and inspect the Darlin Michele.
Because Moniz was directly involved in the incident, he was ordered to take a drug and alcohol test. The federal standard for those operating commercial fishing vessels is a .04 percent blood alcohol content. As of Wednesday morning, Drayer did not know the results of the test.
Drayer said the investigation would mostly look into safety aspects of the accident and wouldn’t focus on placing blame. Getting answers to questions about the wearing of flotation devices could prevent future accidents, he said.
Drayer said the search for Lynch has been suspended but could potentially be reopened pending new information, such as a sighting. He also added that the Coast Guard doesn’t normally do body recovery searches.
Lynch was wearing a blue-gray jacket and green raingear coveralls.
Park reveals proposed plan for Dyea
Residents question whether changes are needed
By KATIE EMMETS
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park recently held an informational meeting to update Skagway and Dyea residents on its preliminary plans for Dyea.
The park is now in the scoping phase of the plan and looking to the public for opinions and information, said Superintendent Mike Tranel.
An official Dyea Site Plan and environmental assessment will be completed in about four months and then made available to Skagway residents for 30-60 days to allow for public comment.
At the October 16 presentation, Tranel said the park has been using the 1996 General Management Plan as guidance while coming up with the proposal. He mentioned they have also been reviewing proposals created in 2009 and 2010 for usable parts for the draft so they didn’t have to start from scratch.
The first proposed action in the draft’s current state would be to move the Dyea Flats Road.
Tranel, who has experience with moving roads at Denali National Park, said the Dyea Flats road is being threatened by glacial river erosion with the Taiya River eating away at the land surrounding it.
“We think it will go in the drink here,” said the park’s Chief of Resources, Theresa Thibault, while pointing at parts of a map where the road is close to the river.
If the road is relocated, Thibault said, it would be pushed west toward Slide Cemetery and continue south toward the flats. If the park does not choose relocation, parts of the existing road could be relocated away from the river as needed.
Also part of the draft is creating a formal entrance to Dyea by preserving the old Chilkoot Trail tollhouse (McDermott Cabin) and relocating it to the Matthews Cabin area to use as a visitor contact station.
The proposed site plan also includes the construction of a horse trail from north to south Dyea and the construction of a hike/bike river trail from the visitor station to the north entrance of the Core Historic Townsite of Dyea.
Part of the proposed plan would be to realign existing trails in the old townsite to match Dyea’s original street grid for better visitor interpretation of Dyea during the Yukon gold rush.
The trails would be straight lines that match up with this historical information the park has received about where the streets were located in historic Dyea.
“Opening up a portion of the original street grid will allow the visitor to orient in Dyea and help them to visually imagine the early street grid,” Thibault said. “Combined with waysides showing the historic buildings, they will have the opportunity to imagine the hustle and bustle of that once thriving community.”
Another reason for the part to move the trails would be to protect cultural resources.
Thibault said the original street grids were lined up with buildings and other features that still exist as ruins or as archaeological features below the ground, and some of the trails on park-owned land run right through and over the resources.
“The continued use of those trails contributes to the destruction of those features,” she said. “If we move the trails to align with the street grids, we would be putting them in areas that generally are devoid of features that would be impacted. It helps to protect what is left of Dyea.”
Thibault said the park wants to protect the cultural landscape by preserving the false front, the warehouse, the cemeteries, the wharf pilings and other existing artifacts, but not at the expense of the natural resources, which include toad breeding grounds, salmon habitat, bald eagle nests, and an emerging landscape.
“We want visitors to understand the significance of the gold rush but also understand what’s going on with nature and isotactic rebound and the encroaching forest,” she said.
But during the question and comment period, resident Jack Inhofe said he didn’t think cultural and natural resources could exist together without one of them suffering.
If the park chooses to cut down trees and create roads and trails, Inhofe said he thinks some of Dyea’s natural resources, such as mushrooms and herbs he uses to create medications, could be destroyed.
He also said he doesn’t understand why anything needed to be done when the majority of Skagway residents indicated in a previous park survey that they wanted Dyea to stay as it is.
“What’s the matter with the way it is now?” he asked. “I don’t see what the problem is. I don’t see why you have to do any of this.”
Skagway resident Jack Inhofe, center, talks with Klondike Gold Rush NHP Superintendent Mike Tranel and Chief of Resources Theresa Thibault after the Dyea planning presentation. Katie Emmets
Tranel explained that this plan began with a concern of continued erosion of the Native Cemetery on the bank of the Taiya River. Marked graves from the site were moved to an area outside the Slide Cemetery in 1978, and the river has been cutting away the rest of the cemetery.
The Skagway Tribal Council asked the park for help, Tranel said, and though the gravesite is technically on Alaska State land, the park has a responsibility to help as a steward for public land.
“We have to go out and try to do something about that,” he said.
After discussing the Native gravesite erosion, park officials realized that a lot of the issues in Dyea, such as the Dyea Flats road, were connected.
“We have to look at things comprehensively,” he said. “A lot of things are going well out there now, but you can’t expect things to stay the same by accident — you have to plan to keep them special.”
Tranel said he realizes a glacial river is going to do exactly what it wants to do, no matter what, so he thinks plans to slow down the riverbank stabilization wouldn’t be a good investment at this time, even if the funds presented themselves.
Robert Murphy, owner of Alaska Excursions in Dyea, said no matter how wide the proposed street grid trails are, they are going to be straight.
Murphy said a straight stretch of trail could be perceived as boring and might be viewed as a negative aspect of the park by visitors in Dyea. He suggested the park add as many turns and curves as possible.
Park employee Kari Rain said she was against cutting trees to create trails, but she thinks it would give visitors with disabilities the chance to be in nature.
“People with disabilities can’t have a completely natural experience here,” she said, adding that they need to have a certain level of fitness to hike the trails that surround Skagway. ‘”I’m not a big fan of paving, but it would be nice to have wheelchair access in Dyea.”
Tranel responded by saying there are other ways that don’t involve paving trails that would allow wheelchair access.
The preliminary draft ideas are not final or set in stone, Tranel said.
“We want to get your ideas to modify the plan and make changes where we need to,” he said at the meeting. “We need to get this to resolution so we can get out there and do some good things in Dyea.”
Waste study shows a near $475 average cost per ton burned in the Skagway incinerator
By KATIE EMMETS
After a month of a comprehensive waste study, SCS Engineers has determined it will cost $474.07 on average for each ton burned in the Skagway incinerator for the next seven years.
This number was calculated by factoring in incinerator repair and maintenance costs, utilities costs, labor costs, the costs of major rehabilitation projects, and the debt service payments from 2012-2019.
“It’s a revelation for a lot of people,” SCS’s Marc Rogoff said of the cost. “But given where Skagway is located, it’s not totally outrageous.”
Because the only ways out of Skagway are by water or a road to a foreign country, the options of getting rid of garbage are not cheap, he said.
While conducting his research, Rogoff found the funding for the incinerator comes from several different sources, some of which are sales tax and cruise ship head tax.
“I was anticipating that the numbers would be higher than what most people thought,” said Skagway Borough Assembly member Steve Burnham Jr., assembly liaison to the Recycling Committee. “But I didn’t expect for them to be as high as the numbers SCS gave us. They’re astoundingly high.”
According to SCS Engineers research, the incinerator performs three to four burns each week in the summer and one to two burns in the winter.
With an average of 7.01 tons per summer burn, the total amount burned in the incinerator from May 1 to September 12 was 512 tons, making the total cost burns during cruise ship season $242,723.84.
From October 2011 through April 2012 there was an average of 4.87 tons of garbage per burn. With 243.4 tons burned throughout the winter, the total cost of incinerator use during those seven months was $115,199.01.
“It’s staggering how much money goes into firing the incinerator,” said Recycling Committee chair Mark Lohnes. “I think that’s going to be the single biggest positive twist for getting a comprehensive solid waste and recycling plan.”
Lohnes said when the Skagway community looks through SCS’s study findings and plan suggestions, which will be presented to the assembly in January, it will see there’s a lot of money to be saved in recycling and that recycling is not just a “greenie, feel good thing.”
Lohnes said SCS’s waste stream study of residential and commercial garbage showed that a lot of Skagway’s trash was organic matter that could be composted.
Because there are already several piles at Seven Pastures, including a pile for grass clippings and a pile for trees, Lohnes said he thinks it could be feasible that a compost pile could be staged there as well.
Recycling organic matter will reduce operating and maintenance costs of the incinerator, he said, especially in the summer.
Burning things that could be composted puts a load on the incinerator because it’s wet and doesn’t burn quickly,” he said “It’s like throwing a wet log in the wood stove. It takes more time and fuel to burn.”.
Now that preliminary information is collected, Rogoff said, it is SCS Engineers responsibility to come up with a solid waste and recycling program, recycling center logistics and funding options.
Recycling will reduce the amount of trash burned in the incinerator, Rogoff said, so it’s possible the municipality could get by with two burns per week in the summer and one burn per week in the winter, which save the municipality a significant amount of money.
“The cost saved from cutting down burns may wind up being a way to pay for the recycling in the end,” he said. “Recycling won’t be a net cost for the city, but it could pay for itself.”
Rogoff said Skagway is in a unique situation when it comes to recycling.
“Usually the city’s cost to dispose trash is really cheap, and they have to convince people to recycle,” he said. “But it’s the opposite situation here.”
The Recycling Committee helped conduct a residential recycling survey and a commercial recycling survey in September.
“The surveys have been very, very positive,” he said. “I’ve done a lot over the years, and I don’t think I have ever seen such positive responses.”
Rogoff said many residents are already doing their part in the effort and take their recucling to Raven Recycling in Whitehorse.
Burnham and wife Kim hand-delivered them to businesses, and he said most businesses were extremely receptive to recycling if it were convenient.
Burnham said a lot of businesses said they would recycle if there were a dumpster or recycling center near their stores, as some of them don’t have cars.
Rogoff plans to come back and hold a town-hall style meeting about recycling on December 4.
“I really want to hear what the town has to say about the recycling program and answer any questions,” Rogoff said.
INTRAMURAL ACTION – Peyton Rodig of the Dribble Dudes, left, tries to sneak up on Zoe Whitehead, with ball, of the Krunchers as Iraida Hisman looks to receive a pass. See more photos in Sports and Rec. for this issue. Jeff Brady
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)
Smith Moves on, Healy interim borough manager
In an October 18 Borough Assembly Meeting, members unanimously agreed to extend the position of interim Skagway Borough manager to former manager Tom Healy while they are searching for someone to permanently fill the position.
The assembly approved an administrative leave for manager Tom Smith a week earlier.
Healy will be offered an eight-week contract and will start on November 1.
Healy was Skagway City Manager from 1986-1992.
In an October 11 special meeting, five members of the assembly unanimously agreed to allow Smith’s last day to be October 17.
Smith was originally awarded a contract that lasted through April 2013, but it was shortened to December 31, 2012 in an April 5 meeting.
“It seemed reasonable to allow Tom (Smith) to return to his family for the holidays since it was apparent to me that the assembly wasn’t going to renew his contract when expired at the end of the year,” said Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer.
Part of the agreement of the administrative leave is paying Smith till December 31 and assuming his housing lease through April.
Selmer said Healy would move into Smith’s rental when he arrives in November, but Smith’s landlords would allow the municipality to exit the lease if it has no use for it when Healy is gone.
Selmer said Healy has a lot of experience in the water, sewage and garbage field, which will be good for the continuing waste water treatment plant renovations.
After leaving Skagway, Healy was a manager in Haines and Palmer, where he is now retired.
Assembly members Mark Schaefer, Dan Henry and Mike Korsmo are part of the manager search committee.
In the meeting, Selmer said former manager Alan Sorum might be interested in applying for the permanent position.
Sales tax holiday begins Nov. 1
In an October 18 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, the assembly decided it would extend the sales tax holiday to both retail goods and services by amending municipal code.
During a discussion on an ordinance that would have declared November 1, 2012 through March 31, 2013 a sales tax holiday, Assemblyman Gary Hanson asked why the holiday only included goods and not services.
Hanson noted that residents still have to pay taxes on services such as housing rent and carpet cleaning, and he wanted to know if there was a reason.
As stated in Skagway Municipal Code Chapter 4.08, a sales tax holiday is an exemption of sales tax on any retail sales, said Borough Clerk Emily Deach.
In order for services to be included in the sales tax holiday, the code would have to be amended with an ordinance, she said.
Selmer said he agrees with the holiday being extended to services, and added that he’s glad the holiday will take effect November 1 instead of last year’s starting date of October 1.
Starting the holiday in the beginning of October didn’t allow the assembly to see the third quarter sales tax numbers.
“If for some reason we have a big shortfall in the third quarter this year, we will be cancelling the sales tax holiday,” Selmer said.
The assembly voted 5-0 to pass the ordinance and start the sales tax holiday on November 1. Assemblyman Mike Korsmo was absent.
The assembly will have a first reading of an ordinance that will amend chapter 4.08 in a November 1 meeting. Once the code is amended, the assembly will amend the parameters of the holiday to include retail goods and services. – KE