November 21, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 21
Pin for the Win
Skagway’s Trevor Cox pins Thunder Mountain wrestler Hunter Boyer in the opening round of the Skagway Invitational Tournament on Nov. 9. Cox, Skagway’s only wrestler, finished with a 5-3 record. Skagway hosted eight other SE Alaska schools. See story and photos in Sports & Rec.
Photo by Jeff Brady
White Pass plans to fix Ore Dock soon
ClubLink’s Sahi concerned about ‘stridency’ of muni’s previous letter
By KATIE EMMETS
The CEO of White Pass’s parent company has assured the Municipality of Skagway that an Ore Dock repair will be attended to as soon as possible.
In a response to the municipality’s letter sent earlier this month, ClubLink CEO and chairman Rai Sahi stated that White Pass has been addressing the concerns about the Ore Dock since early October, and with the assistance of engineers, the company is determining the scope and nature of the repairs needed.
“Be assured that whatever repair is required will be attended to as soon as possible,” Sahi wrote in a November 12 letter addressed to the municipality.
In a letter dated November 7, municipal officials told Sahi that corrective action of the hazardous area must be taken before December 7 or White Pass would be deemed in breach of its waterfront lease, and the municipality would evaluate legal options against the railroad for condemning the lease. The municipality provided a copy of the letter to Wells Fargo in accordance with the Estoppel Certificates entered into in 2011.
Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer, Acting Manager Tom Healy and Port Commission Chair Tim Bourcy signed the letter.
The letter states that local representatives of Pacific & Arctic Railway & Navigation, ClubLink’s railroad management on the U.S. side for the WP&YR, were advised of the hazardous area on the dock on October 5, and a month and a half later the dock is not yet fixed.
A recent condition survey of the dock by Moffatt & Nichol Engineers determined the service pier to have major corrosion and is in severe condition. The engineering company rated the condition as critical requiring attention on a very high priority basis with strong urgency.
In August, White Pass president Eugene Hretzay gave the municipality and Moffatt & Nichol Engineers permission to perform an assessment of the dock in preparation for the Gateway Project. This followed an Aug. 9 incident when a piling fell off another section of the dock as a cruise ship was leaving. That damaged section was covered with a metal catwalk.
On October 4, Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer received the results of the Moffat & Nichol study, which included a recommendation to restrict access of an area on the dock to both pedestrians and vehicles.
Former Borough Manager Tom Smith sent a letter to White Pass on October 5 to inform the company of the situation and asked the railroad to fix the safety issue immediately. After not receiving a response for more than two weeks, Skagway borough attorney Bob Blasco contacted White Pass in regard to the matter on October 22. Two days later, Selmer said, White Pass Director of Contracts and Land Management Jaime Bricker responded by saying White Pass was waiting for its engineering firm to assess the dock and make recommendations for repair.
Selmer and Healy restricted the unfit area of the dock on November 2 with yellow police tape so fuel barge workers and Mineral Services employees would not be able to access it.
But Selmer said an immediate permanent solution is imperative for the safety of anyone who sets foot on the Ore Dock.
“If your company fails to make these immediate and emergency repairs, the municipality considers such failure to be a material breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing included in every lease in the State of Alaska,” the letter stated.
DOCK JOBS – Top, work begins on installing the new floating dock at the south end of the Railroad Dock for the new Solstice class of larger cruise ships coming next summer. Pacific Pile and Marine is the contractor and has been removing old piling to make a space for the floating barge on the right which will serve as the floating dock. There was a delay last week due to a crane problem but the project is still expected to be completed by the end of the year. Bottom, the Skagway Ore Dock awaits repairs to the damaged taped-off section north of the ship loader. Jeff Brady
Also brought to Sahi’s attention was a decision made by the Skagway Borough Assembly to no longer negotiate with White Pass President Eugene Hretzay.
“Eugene Hretzay has repeatedly misled the municipality and in our view, apparently withheld information from you,” the letter stated. “If PARN wants to continue in any capacity on any of the current leased premises after 2023, all negotiations between PARN and the municipality will only be personally with you.”
Responding to that concern, Sahi wrote that ClubLink looks forward to continuing dialogue aimed at formulating a mutually acceptable working relationship that would accommodate the goals of both entities, but also stated that he was surprised at the “stridency of the municipality’s letter and the breadth of its distribution.”
“It has always been our desire to maintain a good, cordial and mutually beneficial working relationship with the municipality,” Sahi added. “I believe and am sure you would agree that it is in our mutual best interest to do so.”
When asked Monday what White Pass’s plans are for the Ore Dock repairs, Hretzay responded in an e-mail that Sahi would be addressing them with the municipality.
“There is no animosity between the mayor and the company,” Hretzay wrote. “I’m sure the mayor agrees.
Selmer said he thinks Sahi’s response was positive and that the municipality needs to move forward with White Pass.
“Mr. Sahi states that they want a good, cordial, and mutually beneficial working relationship with the Municipality and that he will be in further contact with us when he has reviewed certain additional information.”
Healy sent a response letter to Sahi on November 14 thanking him for his reply and stating that the municipality accepts Sahi’s assurance of the repairs and expects a corrective plan by December 7.
Skagway water free of cyanobacteria, shellfish to be tested
Ties to three local ALS deaths in past decade not found in drinking water
By KATIE EMMETS
The Municipality of Skagway recently received test results indicating its drinking water does not contain biologically produced toxins that are said to cause Lou Gehrig’s disease.
In the last decade, three Skagway residents have died from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the municipality thought it prudent to test its drinking water and local shellfish after reading an article about causes of the disease, said Mayor Stan Selmer.
“Sometime earlier this year Mavis Irene Henricksen dropped off a magazine that contained an article asking the question "Did Tap Water Kill Lou Gehrig?” Selmer said.
The article discusses the possibility of cyanobacteria causing neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), which is produced by cyanobacteria, has been found in the brains of humans who died from ALS, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s but not in the brains of people who died from other causes.
“After reading the article I passed it around to the manager and the water department, and we filed it away as information for perhaps referring to at some later time,” Selmer said.
When news of the third case of ALS was diagnosed in Skagway last summer, the municipality decided it was time to test its water, he said.
Selmer directed environmental consultant Chad Gubala to test the municipality’s drinking water and shellfish from the ocean surrounding the area.
Gubala said his first course of action was to discuss Skagway’s ALS cases and potential causes with the Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Because the rate of ALS in the United States is not precisely known, it’s hard to say with confidence if the number of cases in Skagway is higher than normal, Gubala said, but ATSDR officials stated that the ALS rate in Skagway appears high, and the municipality’s concern is justified.
“Since the onset of ALS has been correlated with chronic exposure via consumption to certain environmental triggers, it was prudent for the Municipality of Skagway to determine if any of those triggers were present in Skagway’s water source and/or in commonly consumed shellfish,” Gubala said.
The suspect triggers fall into two categories, he said, which are metal contaminants such as lead and mercury; and biologically produced toxins such as BMAA, paralytic shellfish toxin and Microcystins.
The municipality, under Gubala’s direction, has sent water samples from all three Skagway wells and crab and shrimp samples from the Upper Lynn Canal to two separate certified labs.
GreenWater Lab/CyanoLab in Palatka, Fla. is testing the water and shellfish for biologically produced toxins. This lab was recommended to Gubala by the Center for Disease Control, and he said its work has been impeccable. SGS North America, Inc. in Anchorage is testing the samples for metal contaminants.
“For now water sample results for BMAA, PST and Microcystins were negative,” he said. “All other analyses are pending.”
Rents and services will not be included in sales tax holiday
After amending Skagway Municipal Code to include rent and services in sales tax holidays at its discretion, the Skagway Borough Assembly on Nov. 8 shot down a resolution that would have included rent and services in FY13’s sales tax holiday.
Though the 2012 summer sales tax revenue amount isn’t final, Assemblyman Dan Henry said the number is now at $6.433 million.
Henry said sales tax revenue of $6 million was budgeted for 2013, which he said was a little conservative, but the municipality was still observing what the economy would do and how it would reflect upon Skagway.
“All in all we’re in pretty good shape, although we probably have a home for this overage,” Henry said.
Henry, the Finance Committee chair, said the committee recommends that rents and services not be included in the sales tax holiday this winter because the immediate future holds several budget amendments, which will deplete the sales tax revenue.
“But I think we should include it in discussion in budget cycle when we get into it in a couple months,” he said.
But because sales tax revenue is nearly $400,000 over the projected budget as it is, Assemblyman Gary Hanson said he is still in favor of extending the sales tax holiday to rents and services. Hanson was the assembly member who championed the resolution for rents and services to be included in the holiday.
“I understand, and I don’t want to put us in the hole, but I’m just saying that we did have a budget surplus last year, and we made a very generous lowering of the mill rates for the property owners,” he said. “But folks that rent didn’t enjoy that.”
Hanson said passing this resolution would be an opportunity to give everybody equal benefit from a budget surplus.
“What I’m saying is we can’t (afford it) because we have budget amendments that are going to come very close to covering the revenue over what we budgeted as a line item of $6 million for FY 13,” Henry said.
Later in the meeting, the assembly discussed two upcoming budget amendments: an additional $181,096 for the Skagway Small Boat Harbor improvement project, and an additional $31,840 for the Skagway Public Library expansion project. They will be brought forward for approval in an ordinance at a future meeting.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he agrees with Hanson about extending the tax holiday to Skagway renters, but he thinks it would take more planning to implement it because of upcoming budget amendments.
“It’s a relief to a large segment of this community that is in rental mode,” he said.
Korsmo said a lot of this year’s sales tax surplus would go to budget amendments, and he agreed with Henry about keeping rent and service sales tax exemptions in mind next year when building the fiscal year 2014 budget.
“We always try not to do budget amendments,” he said. “But we’re back in budget amendment mode. They are always going to come at us in some way shape or form especially when we have contracts out there.”
The services and rents sales tax resolution failed with a 1-5 vote with only Hanson voting in its favor. – KE
Ainsley pleads guilty to lower assault charge
After his case was reopened because of a hung jury in Juneau, Matthew Ainsley pleaded guilty to stabbing a co-worker with a knife after a fight last summer.
On November 15, Ainsley pleaded guilty to assault in the fourth degree for negligently causing physical injury to another person with a dangerous instrument.
Ainsley, a 32-year-old Skagway TEMSCO Helicopter, Inc. employee, was charged with two felony counts of assault after stabbing a co-worker with a butcher-block knife following an altercation in June.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams said Ainsley would spend one year in jail at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau.
Resolutions can happen when a case is reopened, Williams said, adding that she cannot comment on plea negotiations.
Ainsley’s Alaska Superior Court trial resulted in a hung jury on November 4, but it was reopened because both sides have the right to a verdict, Williams said.
Ainsley was arrested on June 23.
At 1:13 a.m. a Skagway Police Department dispatcher received a call from TEMSCO employee Rodney Johnson, who asked that the police come to the TEMSCO hanger/housing on Alaska Street between 5th and 6th Avenues because his roommate, Matthew Ainsley, was causing a disturbance, stated an Alaska District Court charging document.
While Johnson was on the phone with the dispatcher, Ainsley picked a knife from a butcher block and stabbed Johnson in the left arm between the wrist and the elbow.
Johnson was taken to Dahl Memorial Clinic and flown to Juneau for further treatment with possible nerve and ligament damage.
Johnson told Skagway officers that Ainsley came home earlier, tipped over a table and said he wanted to leave Skagway. Johnson calmed Ainsley down and went to bed, but he heard noises in the TEMSCO hanger and found Ainsley throwing things around. He then called 911.
Ainsley was arrested by Officer Brayton Long and was charged with a second-degree felony for assault. He was held in the Skagway jail but was transferred to Lemon Creek Correctional Facility in Juneau a few days after his arrest. – KE
• KGRNHP FEATURE: Original Itjen Street Card engine located in Rapuzzi Collection
THORNY SUBJECT –Idalia Garcia watches intently as visiting magician Hart Keene pulls a string of metal sewing needles and thread from his mouth that he had just swallowed individually moments before. Weather prevented the Oregon magician from making his show for the annual Veterans Dinner but he made it to town the next day and played to a packed house at the school. Jeff Brady
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete report in print edition)
Assembly approves payments in lieu of taxes for traditional council
Assembly members unanimously passed an ordinance, which will allow the Skagway Traditional Council to give the Municipality of Skagway payments in lieu of taxes for future low-income housing units.
The traditional council approached the municipality last year about building housing using federal income housing funds.
The traditional council would be required by the federal government to set up housing that is property tax exempt, and in order for that to happen, the municipality had to change its code, said Skagway Borough Clerk Emily Deach.
“It allows us to provide a property tax exemption for any housing that is developed and maintained using these federal housing funds,” Deach said.
Even though the Skagway Traditional Council is a federally recognized tribe, it is not automatically property tax exempt, she said.
The tribal council wants an agreement with the municipality that would allow the council to give payments in lieu of property taxes so council members can still enjoy municipal services such as the police and fire departments. – KE
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Skagway Students to learn about salmon life cycle
Skagway school will finally be seeing an influx of occupants, but it won’t be in the form of students.
In January, 200 salmon eggs will grace the presence of the elementary wing hallway as part of a salmon education program provided by the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council.
Bernie Warchuck of Skagway Fishing Charters made a donation to the TIWC for salmon education of Skagway youth, said watershed council director Rachel Ford.
With the funding from Warchuck, the watershed council purchased a 28-gallon tank, pumps and chillers to ensure the temperature of the water mimics the salmons’ natural habitat.
An Alaska Department of Fish and Game permit was obtained for the project.
“The whole thing is to teach the kids about the life cycle of salmon in a way that they can see it happen right in front of their eyes,” she said.
The students will watch the salmon grow from eyed eggs to alevins to fry.
Ford and Amanda McCutcheon, education specialist for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, are creating the curriculum and working with Skagway School elementary teachers to ensure it is the right fit for the school.
“We’re going to talk a lot about habitat and human interaction,” she said. “And we’ll talk about the culture and why salmon are important to Alaska Natives.”
Ford said the teachers are excited to implement the program this spring.
“I think this is going to fill a niche they haven’t filled yet,” Ford said.
Two hundred coho salmon eggs will be flown up from Juneau’s Douglas Island Pink and Chum, Inc. in January for the program.
“We’re going to put the tank in the elementary school hallway in an area that will be accessible to all students,” she said adding that the students will be responsible for monitoring the tank’s pH level and temperature.
The lessons will be 15 to 30 minutes long and will be taught in each individual elementary class.
If the program is a success, Ford said, Warchuck will continue to provide funding, and the watershed council will keep up with the curriculum each year. Additional funding is provided by the proceeds of last year’s Pat Moore Fishing Derby.
Members of the Skagway community who are interested in teaching a lesson or helping to maintain the fish tank can contact the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council. – KE