October 28, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 19
Tying Together the Taiya Bridge
Russ King, an iron worker for North Pacific Erectors, bolts on one of the new beams under the Taiya River Bridge in Dyea. As of the end of last week, the crew had completed 40 percent of the 200-foot span, and was slightly ahead of schedule, said NPE’s John Garvey. Foreground is the first layer of decking. In the background is a footbridge that spans the gap to allow Dyea residents access when the crew is not working. So far, both humans and bears have been cooperative, Garvey said. The project is due to be completed by the end of next month. See more photos on page 5 of our print edition.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Floating cruise dock addition needed
or Skagway could miss out on big ships
By JEFF BRADY
Skagway could miss out on new larger cruise vessels as early as 2013 if improvements are not made to the Ore Dock, regardless of Gateway Project funding.
Representatives of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska were in Skagway last week looking for answers about a proposed floating dock section that was permitted last year, but has yet to be constructed. The estimated $2.2 million project was to be White Pass’s contribution to the Gateway Project, even before negotiations began over site control on that side of the waterfront. It would be constructed just south of the current ore ship loader.
Rick Erickson, operations manager for CLAA, said this week from his Ketchikan office that cruise lines have been approaching Alaska ports in recent years about bringing larger ships north if dock improvements are made. Erickson would not go into specifics about which ships could be coming, but said several lines have inquired. Decisions will be made on the 2013 season in March.
A large Celebrity ship could be coming this way in 2013, Mayor Stan Selmer recently told both the borough assembly and port commission members in separate meetings. The larger Celebrity ship would be brought to Alaska to replace a smaller vessel, added port commissioner Steve Hites, who said he had spoken to the company.
The new Solstice and Voyager class ships from Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruise lines hold from 2,850 to 3,100 passengers and are taller with more decks than ships currently coming to Alaska. Passenger gangway access is from the lower decks, and the best solution in Alaska, with its extreme tidal shifts, is a floating dock. Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka have installed them. They are on the drawing board in Icy Straits (Hoonah) and Skagway.
Erickson said Skagway needs a floating component to remain competitive with other ports in the region.
“We just think that the sooner the better Skagway should add a floating component to accommodate that size ship,” Erickson said. “And we will probably see it sooner rather than later.”
In 2012, as in the past few seasons, Celebrity will have two ships calling regularly on Skagway, but that could change in 2013, warned the mayor. A Celebrity ship could be lost to another port. Hites added that RCCL is looking at bringing in an additional ship in 2014.
They said the municipality needs some answers from White Pass and will invite representatives to the joint port commission and borough assembly meeting on Nov. 1.
If the borough ends up with site control in a new tidelands lease agreement, then it was suggested that state cruise tax funds could be spent on the floating dock project.
Regardless of what happens with the tidelands lease issue, Erickson said the floating component needs to be “added in the near future to accommodate the industry that we have coming to Skagway.”
Port Commission scales back TIGER III request
Joint meeting with assembly to decide White Pass direction
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Port Commission has reduced its federal TIGER III grant request to $5 million, based on recent engineering estimates for the Gateway Project and a desire to concentrate on funding and completing Phase One.
The application was finalized in two recent meetings via teleconference with grant writer Mariah Morales. After final edits are completed, it will be uploaded to the federal Department of Transportation site over the weekend, she said. The submission deadline is Monday.
The figure in earlier drafts proposed a federal request as high as $19 million, but commissioners stated that a scaled back project, which focused on dock and upland improvements in Phase One, would be a better sell. While the total Gateway Project of expanded port facilities at the ore terminal is estimated to cost $80 million, Phase One’s estimate is $20 million. Of that total, $15 million is already funded through a $10 million state appropriation and a $5 million bond issue approved by local voters.
The combined $20 million would go toward replacing the “crumbling” wooden Ore Dock with a sheet pile dock, and building uplands behind it for a new ore ship loader. Dredging is anticipated as part of the $20 million cost, but Morales said was given a DOT directive that said the federal portion can only be used development “on the ground.”
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state agency which owns the ore terminal, has been authorized by the legislature to spend up to $65 million on a new ship loader and expanded storage shed to accommodate new Yukon mines. It has been listed as a related investor in the project. The ship loader was the main component of last year’s $13.5 million TIGER II grant application, which was denied, but that part of the Gateway Project is now being handled by AIDEA.
AIDEA deputy director and project manager Jim Hemsath attended an Oct. 24 meeting via teleconference and said, “we are moving forward on the terminal.”
In last year’s application, White Pass also was listed as contributing toward a $2.2 million floating dock that would assist in the docking of the larger cruise vessels of the future. But the floating dock was left out of the TIGER III document, in part because of the recent stalemate over site control in a revised tidelands lease.
Instead of focusing on the cruise ship benefits, the commission wanted the application to concentrate on an imrproved dock for multiple users, with an eye toward some day drawing enough ore shipments for a year-round railroad. The dock would handle one ore ship and one cruise ship at a time, or two cruise ships.
Despite its rosy summer visitor economy, Skagway is identified by the state as an economically distressed area because of its high wintertime unemployment, Morales noted in the application. It will show how Skagway is geographically positioned to be the closest major port for Yukon mineral export and inbound freight, but needs improved and expanded facilities in order to draw new business and jobs. TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, and about $527 million is available nationwide under this third appropriation.
The application is a long shot. Only two Alaska projects were funded under TIGER I and none under TIGER II. But the commission and borough assembly members said applying again was worth a shot. Morales was hired for $6,000 to put the application together. The assembly also passed a resolution Oct. 20 supporting the application.
“We sure appreciate your efforts,” said commission chair John Tronrud.
Next up for the Port Commission is a joint meeting with the assembly on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. Mayor Stan Selmer asked for the meeting initially to get the commission’s input on where the White Pass negotiations should go.
“I don’t believe we really are through with negotiations,” Selmer told the assembly Oct. 20. “There was some movement by White Pass to the borough (in its Sept. 16 letter), and when you are in negotiations and there is some movement, that means negotiations are not over.”
This week, before the commission, Selmer said he would like discussions next week to be in open session, even with White Pass present, but if they get to a point where details could affect community finances, then he would move the discussion to a special meeting of the borough assembly at a later date.
The commission and assembly also will discuss the TIGER process and try to get some answers from White Pass on the floating dock issue.
Final cruise passenger totals down slightly from 2010
By KATIE EMMETS
According to a release from the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau, cruise ship travel is down .08 percent from last year.
The final season statistics, which came out in October, showed a decline of 5,718 cruise passengers this season.
In 2010, 713,733 tourists visited Skagway via cruise ship compared to the 708,015 in 2011.
SCVB director Buckwheat Donahue attributes this drop to the continuing downturn of the economy.
Those who would usually take advantage of deals at the end of the season are worried about the economy getting worse, Donahue said, and they decided to save their money.
“Although the numbers were disappointing, there was no big disappointment overall,” he said.
According to figures compiled by the CVB, Skagway saw about 26,000 more cruise ship visitors than it expected.
Cruise ships brought 708,015 passengers to Skagway, 26,423 more passengers than the anticipated 681,592.
In the beginning of the season, Donahue said, cruise ships were coming to Skagway at 102 percent capacity, and although passenger numbers dropped in September, ships were still coming in at 100 percent capacity at the end of the season.
“There were 6,000 fewer people than we expected spending money in Skagway,” he said. “It was not a huge deficit and we expect to make that up next year.”
According to a release from July 30, cruise ship travel at mid-season was up from 2010, but numbers took a decline toward the end of August.
With next year’s projected increase of 50,000 tourists and at least three four-ship days, Donahue said things are looking up.
“With more cruise ships coming up next year, and the potential for 50,000 cruisers coming next season, we’re still hopeful for our future,” he said.
According to the release, tourism travel to Skagway was down .71 percent through September.
Alaska Marine Highway travel was down 7.32 percent, and Klondike Highway travel was down 2.82 percent. But some sectors saw an increase. Air travel was up 18.74 percent, and White Pass and Yukon Route railroad inbound traffic from the Yukon increased 8.42 percent.
Selmer looks forward and backward for community solutions
By KATIE EMMETS
While waiting to receive a login and password for his e-mail and surveying the nearly bare room, the new man at City Hall said he would eventually get around to bringing in golf clubs for his new office.
During off time, he could set up a putting retriever on the floor across from his office door in the assembly chambers that will send the ball back if he putts it in the hole.
He also said he will take a closer look at the gold rush-themed painting on the wall to see if he wants to keep it, and bring in pictures of his own to put on the other wall.
Bringing with him pictures, golf clubs and 16 years of municipal political experience, Stan Selmer is Skagway’s new mayor — again.
Selmer said there are a few issues that will play a pivotal role in Skagway’s future, and it is these issues that prompted Selmer to run in this year’s election.
Skagway’s waterfront issues are at the top of his list.
“The stalemated issues with White Pass over the waterfront lease need to be resolved,” he said, in addition to the construction of a floating dock so the community does not lose cruise ships,
“Other things that need attention are reviewing how we do some of the things that we do,” Selmer said, speaking about the municipality’s commissions and committees.
Selmer said he is considering either merging the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Historic District Commission or making them into stand-alone committees and not having HDC be subordinate to P&Z.
At an Oct. 20 borough assembly meeting, the assembly heard an appeal from HDC that would negate a decision made by P&Z if overturned by the assembly.
The plan to add double doors to a historic building located on Broadway was shot down by HDC in June. That decision was overturned by P&Z during an appeal, and the assembly upheld P&Z’s decision on Oct. 20.
“The other night we resolved an issue that has been out there for five months,” he said. “That is unacceptable to me, unacceptable to the committees, unacceptable to the builder. It shouldn’t be acceptable to the borough.”
Selmer said he thinks that by merging them or making them stand-alone commissions, appeals would be processed quicker.
“It’s just not good business to take five months to decide if a double door could be put in,” he said.
Another change, which Selmer said is a housekeeping issue, would be to do away with the Skagway Museum Board. For the past few years, Selmer said, the board has not met at all, and instead of having a board, the museum director would report to the borough manager, which Selmer said is already happening.
Ultimately, though, Selmer said he would not make any of the proposed changes if they are unwanted, and will be discussing every option with all parties involved.
“I want everybody’s input, and ultimately if I see that code change is necessary to make these adjustments, I will bring my own mayoral appeal to the assembly,” he said. “But my goal is to have buy-in by everybody.”
Another major reason Selmer ran for mayor was because former mayor Tom Cochran decided he would not run again.
“I would not have run for office against Tom,” he said. “But I didn’t think that by announcing I was running was going to stop anyone else from running.”
Selmer said it worried him that there was no competitive race for any municipal positions.
“It’s bothersome when you have 300 people sign a petition about school funding, but you can’t get a competitive race for any seat,” he said.
In future years, Selmer suggests the borough try holding the election in winter.
“I think that in the middle of winter people who live here have things that just annoy them and maybe there would be enough topics out there that people are annoyed about that people would step forward and say, ‘I’m going to fix that problem,’” he said. “I’m not saying it’s going to change, but why not try it?”
During his time as mayor, Selmer said he would like to work with the National Park Service to broaden their scope of representing historical time periods.
Selmer said that although the park has been excellent stewards of Skagway’s history, they have only been excellent stewards of gold rush history.
“One of the reasons I ran for mayor is because I wanted to see those who were here before the gold rush, Alaska Natives, and those of us who’ve had families here since the gold rush, be represented so we start to get the pre-gold rush and post- gold rush history on equal footing with the gold rush history,” he said. “And we’re not there yet.”
Selmer said he would like to see the park reach out to members of the community whose families have lived in Skagway before, during and since the gold rush, so they might better understand, from photographs and spoken word stories, the time periods before and after the Yukon Gold Rush.
Selmer said he is pretty up-to-date on Skagway’s recent history, having served as mayor or assemblyman off-and-on over two decades.
Selmer’s first experience with municipal politics started in 1969 when he served as a then city councilman for a year before going away to school in 1970.
In 1988 he served another year-long term, and in 1989, after being asked to be a write-in candidate, Selmer was elected as Skagway’s mayor and served until 1995 when he did not run again due to health problems.
He was later appointed by then mayor John Mielke to serve again as a city councilman and was subsequently elected to a third term in 2002.
“That’s one of the nice things I bring to the table,” he said. “I bring municipal history, not just gold rush history.”
Selmer said Skagway has a lot of things going for it, but it needs a mayor who has the future history of Skagway as high on a pedestal as its past history.
“I do know a lot of stuff about Skagway history, and I will not hesitate to tell stuff,” he said. “Sometimes you may need to shut me up.”
Along with being the current mayor, Selmer is also a consultant for Alaska Power and Telephone, from which he retired a regional president in 2010.
Though his contract expires at the end of this month, he said he is in the middle of negotiating a contract for another year.
“Like ever other assembly member and mayor, I’ll have no bigger or no lesser conflicts that anyone else does when it comes to issues that involve their current or former employers.”
But Selmer said he handles conflict differently that others at the table.
“If it’s truly an AP&T issue with direct value to me if approved or direct financial hit to me if not approved, I’ll step down from the mayors seat and go sit in the audience or outside the door,” he said. “I’ve done that before.”
In regard to the West Creek hydroelectricity feasibility study, which he worked on as a consultant to AP&T on, Selmer said it is strictly a borough issue.
“Either it flies or fails as a borough project, not an AP&T project,” he said.
But Selmer does feel strongly about the proposed project.
He said he thinks there will soon be regulations on the emissions that come from docked cruise ships, and Skagway could sell power generated from West Creek to the ships so they could plug in while in port. Selmer also said that having that additional hydropower would not only create year-round revenue for Skagway, but year-round jobs as well.
But before he can get to any of the above-mentioned things, Selmer will use his new login and password to check his e-mail and figure out the password for his phone messages.
“They don’t trust me with these things yet,” he said with a laugh.
OCCUPYING BROADWAY – Marchers head down Broadway to Pullen Park on Oct. 16. Kim Burnham
Skagway residents stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protestors; several local issues tasked to committee
By KATIE EMMETS
It took the rapidly spreading nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement about one month and 3,712 miles to make it to Skagway.
With signs, children, dogs, and drums, residents walked from the McCabe Building to Pullen Pond on Oct. 16 in order to raise awareness and metaphorically stand with the millions of Americans who are protesting corporate America in cities big and small.
“I had been seeing pictures on Facebook of people holding signs that said ‘I am the 99 percent,’” said Skagway resident Ashley Bowman, adding the pictures piqued her curiosity and prompted her to look online to see who the 99 percent were. “It was a bunch of people who are my age who feel that they should be functioning adults in the work force.”
In one of the articles Bowman read online, a man told reporters he and his peers were told to go to college after high school by parents and teachers, and despite doing what they were told, they are now jobless. Having a college degree, a seasonal job and currently on a year-round job hunt, Bowman said she mirrors that sentiment.
While people are coming together throughout the country in support of similar nationwide goals and in opposition of large corporations, each city has slightly different agendas.
“I’m sure we have different things to talk about in Skagway than in Boston or New York,” she said.
When the crowd of about 35 kicked off Pullen Pond chats they started by discussing corporate America, but Bowman said the issues quickly took a local slant.
Occupy Skagway creator Kim Burnham said popular Skagway topics included the desire for easier access to affordable organic food, expansion of recycling facilities, researching wind power, and the need for more affordable, safe housing.
Bowman said she suggested Skagway create a local business directory for cruise ship passengers.
“There are so many people who come into the national park visitor center asking where they can find locally owned stores,” she said, adding that a lot of seasonal workers don’t know the answer to that question. “And some people have signs in their windows saying they are locally owned and they aren’t.”
Bowman said a directory would clear up confusion and promote local business at the same time.
“After the discussion in the park, it was clear that people were engaged, and that more time was needed to continue the dialogue,” Burnham said. “It was suggested and then decided that we hold weekly meetings to keep the communication going.”
The first Occupy Skagway meeting was held on Oct. 23, and nine people were in attendance.
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer said Occupy Skagway approached him with a list of ten local issues after its first meeting.
Along with organic produce and affordable housing, Selmer said the list included bear-proof garbage cans, greater transparency with White Pass lease negotiations, improved recycling, and renewable energy options such as hydro and wind.
“I’m going to try to put together some sort of vegetable and fruit incentive to go before the assembly,” he said. “Residents can grow produce in their yards in exchange for something off of their property tax.”
Selmer said he would also look into free freight programs for recycling and will be presenting information on the West Creek hydro study at the Nov. 2 Dyea Advisory Board meeting.
“I’m not going to appoint an Occupy Skagway Committee, but I will encourage them to bring their issues forth as they continue to support this nation-wide movement,” he said.
Selmer said some of the issues brought to his attention, however, would have no traction in the local government or community.
Occupy Skagway has asked for no cruise ships on Sundays, a diversification of businesses that would limit the amount of jewelry stores in the downtown area, and a ban on open trash can burning.
“On some of these issue, though, we have to agree to disagree,” Selmer said.
Burnham said she first heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement in late September through online media outlets and her sister’s Facebook page.
“I have a sister who lives and works in New York City, so I was getting her Facebook posts about it,” she said. “I was riveted reading about and watching the developments as the movement grew each day.”
After seeing aerial views of Wall Street packed with thousands of protestors and a YouTube video in which documentary filmmaker Michael Moore predicted nation-wide spread of the movement, Burnham wanted to join the movement.
“I felt the urge to join but didn’t see the sense in expending carbon and supporting Big Oil to travel to get to a protest that was rallying against corporations such as Big Oil,” she said.
But a few days later, after she came across the Occupy Together website, trying to create an event in Skagway came to Burnham’s mind upon seeing that Anchorage, at the time, was the only Alaskan city participating.
Before the Occupy movement, Burnham said she had been making slight changes in her own life by “participating in small-scale activism and voting with dollars in addition to ballots.”
“I got excited about the chance to participate in OWS because it seemed like a more effective way to respond in opposition to the destructive greed-based side of capitalism,” she said. “It is empowering and it might also be the last chance we get.”
The next Occupy Skagway meeting will be held Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. at the Skagway Public Library.
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Problem bears, garbage issues persist
The smaller of two bears that have been roaming the streets of Skagway this year was shot Oct. 21 as part of a legal hunt, but the larger and more aggressive one is still being spotted in town.
Police Chief Ray Leggett was taking his dog for a walk when he saw the bear in the alley next to his house on the evening of Oct. 24.
When the bear charged him, he fired his gun and aimed for the ground in front of the bear to scare it off. He said he didn’t shoot it because the gun was not the proper gun to kill a bear, and he didn’t want a wounded bear running around town.
The police department has been given the order to kill the bear as soon as possible.
“The bear is aggressive,” said Leggett. “It had a bad attitude and was growling and hissing at me.”
Residents have told police that this bear has been spotted on house porches and looking through garbage cans.
“A fed bear is a dead bear,” Leggett said.
But a solution is being sought after to eliminate having to kill bears that come into town.
A meeting was held on Oct. 25 to discuss the option of bear-proof garbage cans.
Although there has been more garbage lying around in the recent past during this time of year, Skagway Public Safety Committee chair Tim Cochran said he attributes the bear activity in town not to the garbage, but to the lack of hunters.
Cochran said when he was growing up, the trash dump was uncovered and located at the edge of the runway, and in later years, was uncovered and located on the hill.
“We never had bear problems though,” he said. “There were bears in Dyea and bears at Upper Dewey, but never in town.”
Taiya Inlet Watershed Council Executive Director AJ Conley and Dave Schirokauer will be researching bear-proof garbage cans and grants while working with Skagway Public Works director Grant Lawson to figure out a can that will be both efficient and compatible with existing garbage trucks.
Conley offered to call the garbage can companies and distributers to see if any buying-in-bulk deals could be made that would cut down the cost for residents.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said residents need to realize their trash rates are going to go up, adding that not everyone is going to want to participate in the bear-proof garbage can switch.
“I think people who want them should sign up and we will order them, rather than buying a lot and hoping we will sell them all,” Hunz said.
Danielle Burnham said she thinks everyone should switch to bear-proof cans, and that residents who don’t should have to pay a fine if their garbage is ravaged.
Chief Leggett said the cans should be on the streets before the bears wake up from hibernation in the spring. He also said that once the garbage problem is fixed, the bears themselves need to be addressed. Uniform rules should be put in place as to how many times they will allow the same bear to come into town before killing it, he said, and how to go about marking the bears so they can track their visits.
UPDATE: The second bear was shot by a local hunter early in the morning of Oct. 29.