November 15, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 20
Quiet Autumn Perch
Gulls gather on the Broadway Dock railing on a quiet fall morning as clouds reveal new snow on the peaks across the bay. There have been trace amounts of the white stuff in town the past week, so winter will arrive soon enough.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Back to Florida
Negotiations with White Pass two-thirds complete; Burnham, Blasco to join Henry; Hanson withdraws from negotiating committee
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway Borough Assembly has directed its negotiating team to return to Florida and continue negotiations with White Pass that would allow the municipality access to the Skagway Ore Dock for Gateway Project construction.
After a Nov. 12 executive session, assembly members unanimously voted to send lead negotiator Dan Henry along with team member Steven Burnham Jr. and borough attorney Bob Blasco to Coral Springs, Fla., to bring the assembly’s thoughts back to White Pass President John Finlayson and ClubLink Enterprises Limited CEO Rai Sahi.
Henry was in Florida for negotiations with Finlayson and Sahi late last month and brought back information to the assembly during a November 7 regularly scheduled meeting. Since Henry’s return, the assembly has held two executive sessions to discuss aspects of the negotiations. The team will be building upon Henry’s last trip in which the two parties discussed possible terms to allow the municipality access to the White Pass-leased Ore Dock for the construction of its Gateway Project.
As part of the borough’s negotiating team, Burnham has helped frame aspects of the municipality’s strategy and will be an asset in Florida, Henry said, and Blasco has been asked to go to ensure any legal aspects will be covered.
At the Nov. 7 meeting Assemblyman Gary Hanson, who had been part of the negotiating team, resigned from the team during an executive session.
In an interview, Hanson said he didn’t think he could say why he resigned, as it happened in executive session. But he said his reasons for doing so would become apparent when the assembly goes public with the negotiations.
Henry said he thought negotiations with Finlayson and Sahi last month not only went well, but they potentially completed two-thirds of the negotiations. Sending the negotiating team back to Florida to further communication, Henry said, might enable them to wrap up the final third of negotiations.
As soon as negotiations are complete, the assembly will vote to approve the terms, which will be made public, he said.
The team hopes to go to Florida before Thanksgiving and be able to report back to the table at the rescheduled regular meeting on Nov. 26.
Barbara Sheinberg shows residents a map of the West Creek area during the presentation at the Elks on Nov. 1.
West Creek planning draft released; comments accepted until Nov. 22
By DUSTIN STONE
A preliminary draft of the West Creek Area Master Plan was introduced to the public in two separate open house presentations November 1, and will remain open for public comment until November 22.
The main goal of the meetings, held at City Hall and the Elks, according to Barbara Sheinberg, principal and senior planner at Juneau planning firm Sheinberg Associates, was to familiarize Skagway residents with the rough plan for the management of the West Creek area in order to solicit informed, public opinion.
“This plan establishes how Skagway values the area and wishes to use it,” explained Sheinberg. “Where are you recommending this go?”
In her presentations, Sheinberg outlined the “Preliminary Alternative,” a collection of 14 main points of concern/interest, as well as recommended and alternative courses of action for each. Firewood gathering, timber management, trail establishment/maintenance, motorized-recreation, new zoning, camping and the prohibition of commercial tours in the area are among the topics covered in the draft.
“The big theme here is recreation and resources,” she said.
The intent of the plan is to find a balance between those two values that works for Skagway.
The opinions, concerns and issues discussed in the draft were identified, in part, by public opinion polls and interviews conducted between 2010 and 2013. According to the presentation materials, both years “hiking-backpacking-trail building-exploring” and “wood-harvest-wood cutting-gathering-firewood,” were numbers one and two, respectively, in the poll of “activities to always allow.”
Interestingly, according to Sheinberg, despite respondents’ differing stated uses of the area, one value was almost universally shared. “Commercial use” was the only activity the majority of respondents wanted to consistently prohibit.
“I have heard from a lot of people that they want to keep (West Creek) Skagway’s secret, so to speak,” she said.
Skagway residents overwhelmingly seem to appreciate West Creek as a convenient place to escape the summer tourist crowds and recreate in a remote, wild place that, Sheinberg says, one respondent described as shouting “this is Alaska!”
Keeping that in mind, many of the recommendations outlined in the plan concern developing the area in subtle ways that allow more convenient access for locals and their families, without drawing too much tourist attention to the area.
These developments could include the addition of outhouses and bear proof trashcans near the West Creek Bridge; the establishment of more hiking trails, including a new one to Lost Lake; getting the area on a regular schedule for minimal road and trail maintenance; and installing low key signage near the bridge, containing rules, regulations and safety information, but no maps or trail descriptions.
Commercial tours are currently prohibited in West Creek, and it is recommended by the current draft that it stay that way.
“If you want to keep it the area you value,” said Sheinberg, “bite the bullet now and don’t allow commercial access and residential development. You don’t have to allow commercial access everywhere there is road access.”
The plan also questions the need for an established West Creek campground, an idea that garnered the majority of the day’s negative feedback.
“I agree with 90 percent of what you have here,” said West Creek resident Jeff Brady during the question and answer period, “but I am puzzled by the need for a campground.”
Brady’s sentiments were echoed by several other attendees, including Robert Silcocks, who said one of his favorite things about West Creek is that he can hike and enjoy the area without running into another human being. He said he worries any improvements to the area, particularly a campground, might change this dynamic for the worse, and expressed his doubts that it could be kept a secret for long, even without being on any official trail maps.
“If you make a campground, it’s going to be on somebody’s map somewhere and people are going to flock to it for the same reasons we do,” he said.
Wendy Anderson, who also frequents the area, suggested installing fire rings in spots already obviously being used for fires, like the one at Yakutania Point, as an alternative to campgrounds.
Another action proposed by the plan is changing the zoning of West Creek from “Residential Conservation,” which allows for fairly heavy residential development, to a new “Remote Recreation” designation, which would prohibit any residential development.
Wood gathering and harvesting remained a popular topic of conversation throughout both meetings. Because West Creek is the only place near town where firewood can be gathered, the plan does not seek to end the practice, but instead to “change the code and clarify the regulations in order to get everyone on the right side of the law,” said Sheinberg.
Under current municipal codes, collecting of firewood in West Creek is only legal with a permit. The regulation is not enforced and few residents even seem aware it exists. According to Sheinberg, anyone currently gathering any firewood in West Creek, even from dead and down trees, without a permit is technically breaking the law, a situation she says must be rectified.
“People are sort of feeling like the (current wood gathering) system is working pretty well, but it’s right on the edge of working well,” she said. “One of the most important activities to Skagway residents is essentially illegal.”
The firewood gathering section of the plan also makes recommendations for the consideration of selective timber management and “thinning” of live trees in the area. Different types of thinning and their desired effects are described in the Preliminary Alternative, including thinning for aesthetic purposes, fire management, forest health and trail establishment.
If harvest of live trees is something the public chooses to pursue, clear cuts will be prohibited, old growth will be protected and the services of a professional forester will be necessary before moving forward.
The proposed West Creek hydroelectric facility is also mentioned briefly in the draft. According to Sheinberg, the hydro project is beyond the scope of the current planning effort, and it is not the purpose of the Master Plan to give a yes or no answer on the subject. Instead, it explores possible effects on recreation in the area should the hydro facility be built, and offers suggestions on how to mitigate them.
The full Preliminary Alternative for the West Creek Area Master Plan, as well as all associated presentation materials and other pertinent information are currently available for review at www.SheinbergAssociates.com. All Skagway residents are encouraged to review the information and weigh in on any or all topics of interest or concern.
“I’m glad to hear what people are concerned about,” stated Mayor Mark Schaefer. “We need an area plan that guides us and people’s concerns need to be taken care of. This is the public’s chance. We’re listening.”
Public commentary will be accepted until November 22 and can be sent to Barbara@SheinbergAssociates.com. Responses can also be mailed to Sheinberg Associates, 1107 West 8th Street, Suite 4, Juneau, AK 99801 or left at the City Hall front counter for Permitting Official David Van Horn.
DOT: Moore Bridge replacement funding more secure; Dyea Road project on hold for excess fill determination
By KATIE EMMETS
There have been reductions to Klondike Highway improvements funding in the newest Alaska Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan amendment, but the remaining funding has become more secure.
According to the amendment, Klondike Highway Improvements Stage 1, which included highway maintenance, was completely dropped, but the replacement of the Capt. W. H. Moore Bridge now has about $14 million in federal funding in the fiscal year 2015 budget cycle.
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities Highway Division Operations Manager Mike Vigue said the funding reduction was because the original project was for both road and bridge work for a total of $24 million.
“The determination was made by Southeast region that the road was in decent enough shape for now, (so) they reduced the project to just deal with the bridge because the bridge is the weak link in the corridor,” he said, adding that when the bridge replacement is completed the division would look into road repavement.
Though total project parameters have been reduced, Skagway borough lobbyist John Walsh said he sees more certainty in the project, as finances have changed from “other state funds” to “national highway funds.”
Whereas many other small Alaska towns do not qualify for federal funds, Walsh said, Skagway qualifies because DOT&PF is now looking toward maintenance of national highways, like the Klondike Highway.
There is no design as yet for the bridge replacement project.
DOT&PF planner Marie Heidemann said STIP amendment 8 is to re‐balance the plan to accommodate projects that were unable to move forward in Federal Fiscal Year 2013 with consideration of statewide priorities.
“Amendment 8 shows several project delays and a few new projects in Southeast Region,” Heidemann wrote in an e-mail. “Most project delays are to Surface Transportation Program funded projects, and most new projects are National Highway Performance Program. This is because the new transportation bill, MAP‐21, reduced emphasis on local roads and increased emphasis on the National Highway System.”
Resumption of work on the Dyea Road Improvement Project, the other major road project in the area, has been on hold after a temporary stop work order was issued in response to the amount of fill used earlier this year.
Alaska DOT&PF Communications Officer Jeremy Woodrow said the project was issued a temporary stop work order from the Department of Environmental Conservation after the U.S. Corps of Engineers determined that the fill placed in the Taiya River below the “Hackett Hill” construction zone was in excess of what the issued permit requirements dictated.
Woodrow said the DOT&PF has been working closely with all involved parties to come to an agreement on the fill — whether it was too much or whether the amount is acceptable — and a new work order has been submitted to DEC.
The DEC and Corps are reviewing the order right now, Woodrow said, and will likely have a decision soon.
Though he wasn’t given a timeline, Woodrow said he anticipates work to resume before January 1.
“The road will be improved and ready to drive on in the spring,” he said. “But I’m not sure if the project will be completed this spring.”
The current contract with Hamilton Construction has a completion date of May 2014.
At the Nov. 7 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, members unanimously approved the disposal of a 5,400-square foot portion of the Dyea Road to the State of Alaska for this project. The tract of land is in the construction area known as “The Drops” on the west side of Nahku Bay.
HICKS & HEROES – Elementary school super heroes and a fairy line up for the annual Halloween Parade with high school students portraying the cast of TV’s “Duck Dynasty.” See more Halloween fun on page 5 of our print edition. Katie Emmets
Treatment plant settlement terms released to public
The Municipality of Skagway and ASRC McGraw Constructors, LLC reached a settlement for the delay of the wastewater treatment plant upgrades, in which construction continued two months after the completion date.
After withholding payments until the settlement was finalized, the municipality paid McGraw more than $900,000 after the contractor completed the terms and conditions outlined in the contract.
After McGraw completed the punch list of items, it received $63,000 for approved contract work, $117,000 in approved change order work, and about $114,000 of interest owned to the contractor for withholding.
Skagway also withheld $30,000 until McGraw completed the final punch list of 18 items last month. Subtracted from the final payment was $130,000 in liquidated damages, which began accruing the day the project was late beyond completion. Though the completion was set for March, it was not finished until May.
The settlement was finalized and signed by both parties on October 31 and made public on November 5.
Acting Borough Manager Emily Deach said the municipality would now inform the Department of Environmental Conservation that the project is complete, as the municipality was on the department’s watch list because of concerns that it was violating the Clean Water Act. Deach also said that it will be making its final payment to McGraw soon, and added that the payment was scheduled and budgeted for in FY2013.
Manager process evaluation committee talks about changing job description and raising salary
Skagway is looking for its third manager in two years and is using a committee to rework some of the hiring details.
The Manager Process Evaluation Committee met for the first time October 31 to discuss the job description and wages of the borough manager position before posting the job availability and seeking out new candidates.
With the help of committee members Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. and Police Chief Ray Leggett, a job matrix was created to allow department heads, assembly members and other borough officials to rate the importance of managerial tasks according to their needs.
Because each entity that makes up the Municipality of Skagway has different goals and needs, the committee understood that results of the survey would vary.
“Capital projects might not mean as much to Fire, but it would to Public Works,” Leggett said, adding that, for this reason, the description would be a well-rounded one that would cover all facets of municipal day-to-day tasks and occurrences.
The deadline for the matrix was Nov. 8, and after results are tabulated, Leggett said, the committee would have a better idea of what they are looking for in a manager.
“This will get us up to the point where we have a good functional job description for the manager position,” Leggett said.
Also discussed at the meeting was the manager salary.
Assemblyman Gary Hanson researched the manager salaries of other Alaska towns.
The average managerial salary in Southeast Alaska is about $115,000 with Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan and Wrangell all paying their managers more than $120,000.
George Edes, who was recently fired as the Skagway manager, was hired on a contracted yearly salary of $110,000.
The committee agreed the municipality should advertise the position with a possible range starting at $120,000 that could go up to $140,000 according to experience.
“If we want professional people, we need to pay for professional people,” Leggett said.
The committee will continue to discuss salaries along with other contract perks such as housing stipends and car usage, and will meet again on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
ARTS IN PARK – Hunz & Hunz workers dismantle forms from the new foundation of the outdoor arts facility. Construction is under way at Seven Pastures Park and is due to be complete in July 2014. KE
Skagway River delta given the all clear for tsunami watch
After surveying the area, consultant Chad Gubala determined that Skagway River delta sediments are secure and will not cause a tsunami anytime soon.
The survey came after former mayor Stan Selmer received 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 incident that destroyed the Railroad Dock in 1994, sent 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.
After an initial survey, Gubala stopped the study because he didn’t see the need to continue. – KE
Skagway student in running to join State Board of Education
Rosalie Westfall, a junior at Skagway High School, has applied for a position on the Alaska’s Association of Student Government’s Executive board as the State Board of Education and Early Development student representative.
The SBEED sets the educational standards for the entire state. If Westfall is selected to serve on the board, she will be the voice for Alaska’s students and bring the perspective of someone who is in school to topics discussed.
“I’m excited for this position because I’m very interested in having a voice for the students in my state,” she said. “I want what is best for everyone involved in the school system, and I hope that it reflects in my work with the State Board of Education. I look forward to meeting them in December and hope I’ll get to work with them in the very near future.”
Right now, SBEED is working on bringing a star system into schools. This system is used to fill the gaps in a student’s education using materials that encourage self-learning. This system has been applied in several schools across the state and is gaining momentum every year.
The representative position lasts a total of 18 months. There is a six-month training period performed by the previous SBEED representative, six months performing the duties alone, and six months training the new SBEED representative. Also, there are bi-monthly meetings, one with the SBEED members and another with the Alaska Association of Student Government Executive Board Members. Though Westfall thinks the position’s duties are tremendous, she said she could handle it. Westfall is running against two other people, a freshman from Anchorage and a freshman from North Pole. All three students will participate in an interview with the State Board of Education and Early Development in December, and will be informed whether or not they got the position shortly thereafter.
iPads coming to classrooms soon
Starting in January, the Skagway School will be distributing iPads to kindergarten through fifth grade students.
“It was actually a plan developed by last year’s technology committee,” said Coughran. “So where I saw my role coming in this year is ‘where we can best deploy that kind of technology’.”
The new technology allows the teachers to set up an individual education program for each student. For example, if a student has a higher proficiency level in math, the teacher can place a more advanced application on his or her personal iPad. The teachers’ goal is to use the iPads to maximize their instructional time within their classrooms, and in turn, the students being able to have personal control over their elementary learning experience.
Another bonus to using the iPads is the interactive component they present to the students.
This technology makes many applications, commonly known as apps, available to the teachers that will appeal to younger learners. This element of interactivity is something Skagway School has been striving for over the past few years.
“I’ve always been a big proponent of appealing to different students in different ways” Coughran said. “It will allow us to have the students become excited about learning.”
Coughran said that one concern was the ability to have a seamless transition of the iPads into the classrooms.
To ensure this wasn’t a problem, he had a trainer come in to work with the teachers for a week in October. The trainer covered the use of apps in a classroom and how to effectively utilize them in an educational setting. Also, the instructor helped begin the compilation of a concrete plan on how they will integrate the iPads into the elementary classrooms. – ZOE WASSMAN