November 23, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 21
USO Show for the Vets
Skagway crooners donned 1940s costumes and performed a USO Show with a big band backing them up at the annual Veterans Day dinner at the Elks. See more photos on page 7 of our print edition.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Good Neighbors group of local volunteers ready to help residents in need
Twenty-three volunteers participate in week-long training
By KATIE EMMETS
After years of trying, planning and suggestions, a group of Skagway residents are ready to care for their neighbors who need a little extra help.
“There were a lot of naysayers,” said board president Kathleen O’Daniel. “People said it couldn’t be done, or no one would be able to do it.”
But despite negative feedback in years past, there were 15 members of the Skagway community that showed up tor two hours on the evenings of Nov. 14-18 for the Good Neighbor Volunteer training. In addition to the community members were eight board members who will also be volunteering in the program.
“None of us wanted to do this unless we could be volunteers,” O’Daniel said of the board members.
“I am really impressed with the crosscut of Skagway society that want to be volunteers,” she said. “Everybody has one skill or two or seven or 100, but everyone there had one thing in common and that is a want to take care of people in this town.”
Each of the five nights, Skagway residents who have had training or experience in the areas of sickness, death and dying gave presentations.
“There were lots of questions and answers,” she said. “Everyone brought something to the table.”
The first discussion was about the two types of care that would be provided within the program — temporary care and palliative care.
Temporary care is for someone who has a broken leg, has pneumonia or any other temporary setback that would prevent someone from performing a task for the time being.
Bob Deitrick talks to the Good Neighbor Volunteers about important paperwork that Skagway’s elderly should possess. Katie Emmets
Palliative care includes keeping someone comfortable who has a chronic disease or a fatal condition.
Other topics discussed included who to call if someone dies while in the care of a volunteer, how to tell if someone is being abused or neglected by family members or themselves, and how to comfort someone who is near death.
One topic of the training, which O’Daniel said is important, specifically for a town as small as Skagway, was confidentially and ethics.
“It’s huge,” she said. “We can’t take anything to the Sweet Tooth or to our friends and neighbors.”
Lynn Canal Counseling counselor John Hirscher gave the volunteers key phrases to say if they are asked about someone they are caring for. “I’d rather not say,” “I’m not at liberty to say” and “Please go talk to them yourself” were among them.
Another topic discussed by Bob Deitrick was paperwork and necessary documents residents who are near death should possess. Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett followed up that topic with DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) forms, which are kept at the clinic, the fire department and the police department in case of confusion.
O’Daniel suggests that Skagway’s older residents think about getting important paperwork in order while they are still feeling well, adding that living wills, power of attorney, and trusts are all things that should be set up before someone dies.
“Those of us who are older should definitely have something in place,” she said. “If we go into a coma, have a stroke or a heart attack, we will be in no shape to talk about it then.”
Though the training was very informative, and participants learned a lot, the board realizes that a lot of interaction having to do with physical care is situational, O’Daniel said, adding that when situations arise that were not discussed, the volunteers will be trained on how to handle them.
The training will be followed up with an Alzheimer’s and dementia class, which will be held on Dec. 5 and taught by Dr. Amber Smith of Juneau.
For those who want to participate in the program but missed the training, the board has taped the lessons. Volunteers may watch them and read over the PowerPoint presentations at their convenience.
“We had some people who wanted to do it, but they were out of town or had meetings,” O’Daniel said.
Though there is not a test at the end of the training, she said the volunteers are evaluated on a regular basis.
The only requirements the volunteers must possess are a willing attitude and no criminal record, O’Daniel said.
The volunteers must fill out an application, sign a confidentiality agreement and submit to a background check.
On the application, volunteers are asked to check the boxes next to everyday tasks they feel comfortable or willing to help out with. When a resident calls the program with a task they cannot complete themselves, they are given a list of volunteers who would be able to help them, and they can then choose whom they feel most comfortable with.
O’Daniel said that comfort is very important to both those who need help and those who are helping.
“Volunteers are told not to do anything they are uncomfortable doing,” she said. “And if they do feel uncomfortable, they should call us.”
The program already has one volunteer placed with someone who has requested care, and O’Daniel said several others have expressed interest in the program.
The tasks residents could ask for help with don’t have to be big cumbersome jobs, O’Daniel said.
“It could be cutting firewood, or bringing in firewood, or shoveling a walkway,” she said.
“They can just call and say ‘I can’t do this myself,’ and we will call a volunteer.”
The number for the volunteers, 973-4663 (GOOD), was suggested by Kay Ackerman at AP&T when she was setting up the account.
“Cause when you don’t feel good, you can remember that if you can’t remember anything else,” O’Daniel said.
Residents who need assistance or who want to volunteer can call the 973-GOOD or e-mail the Good Neighbor Volunteers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stakes high for port stakeholders meeting in Anchorage
By JEFF BRADY
The municipality and Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. will be hosting a meeting of Skagway port stakeholders in Anchorage on Nov. 29-30. Beside the two hosts, the meeting will include the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad.
The meeting will begin in a conference room at the Anchorage Hilton at 8 a.m. on Tuesday Nov. 29 and is open to the public. A second room also has been reserved for separate break-out sessions. The meeting is expected to conclude the following morning.
Mayor Stan Selmer went over a draft agenda at a joint meeting of the Skagway Borough Assembly and Port Commission last Friday. A special meeting also was to be held this Tuesday (after this issue went to press) to discuss negotiating strategy in executive session. The municipality plans to use the Anchorage meeting as an opportunity to restart tidelands lease negotiations with White Pass president Eugene Hretzay.
Negotiations stalled in late September when the two parties failed to agree to all the details in a “letter of intent” that would have had the railroad surrender the western portion of the tidelands lease. That section includes the Skagway Ore Terminal and docking facilities to be improved under the Gateway Project with government funds. Selwyn Chihong, which owns a huge lead-zinc prospect in the Yukon, is one of the target customers for expanded terminal facilities. The Gateway Project also would enable the port to handle an ore ship and a cruise ship at the dock at the same time.
Negotiations bogged down over details about allowing White Pass to continue to provide cruise ship services, as well as compensation for the amount of revenue the company would lose from subleases that would be taken over by the municipality.
Earlier in his new term as mayor, Selmer said the September letters could be a starting point, but at last week’s meeting he indicated that he would rather start over negotiations with the company. He intends to bring in Anchorage real estate attorney Robin Brena, or a member of his firm who specializes in maritime leases. Barring that, municipal attorney Bob Blasco or a representative of his firm will be asked to sit in, the mayor said, but he’d rather have “a new set of eyes.” Also present from the municipality will be Assemblyman Dave Hunz, Port Commissioner Tim Bourcy, Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue, and lobbyist John Walsh.
Selmer and Donahue confirmed this week that 2014 is now the target date to have a new floating dock section of the Ore Dock completed for larger “voyager class” cruise ships visiting the port. White Pass has committed to construct that for $2.5 million as part of the Gateway Project. Other funding secured for dock improvements, dredging and uplands creations is $10 million from the state, and $5 million from the municipality. AIDEA, which owns the terminal facility, has bonding authority for up to $65 million for a new ore ship loader and expanded ore storage building. An additional $5 million is being requested for the first phase of improvements in a TIGER III federal grant application, and the borough may go after more money in the future for a dock extension and a roll-on / roll-off facility for rail access.
Selmer said the stakeholders meeting will attempt to nail down the parties on a series of “must haves” and then what they can and cannot agree to. Each will have 15 minutes to present their positions, and then the negotiations can begin.
One of the big issues on the table will be site control. The municipality owns the tidelands where the terminal sits, but leased them to White Pass in the late 1960s for the company to build the original ore terminal and dock for the Cyprus Anvil mine haul. That haul by rail ended in 1982, and subsequent start-ups with trucks followed but never succeeded through the 1990s.
The tidelands lease is set to expire in 2023, but in order to improve the facilities now with government money, control of the site needs to revert back to the municipality. The site control issue is holding up spending on the dock improvements, as well as spending by AIDEA on the terminal, which White Pass sold to the state agency several years ago. AIDEA tore down the original terminal storage shed and rebuilt a portion of it for Capstone’s Minto copper mine, the only current customer. AIDEA would build out the storage building for other customers like Selwyn Chihong.
Added pressure for a site control resolution is coming from Selwyn Chihong, which is in the process of developing a bankable feasibility study that would include a transshipment plan for getting the ore from its mine to an ocean port for delivery to ships. That study’s completion has been extended to the middle of next year. Skagway is the target port, but Selwyn Chihong also is looking at Stewart, British Columbia. Initial plans are to truck the lead-zinc concentrate to Skagway, but if other large Yukon mines also come to life in the next decade, an ore haul by rail could be economically feasible again.
“I think Selwyn needs to have a terminal use estimate … and a truck or train transport indication,” Selmer said. “I see our goal with Selwyn is (establish) what our fees will be to use our dock.”
An expanded ore terminal would employ about a dozen people year-round, but if the railroad became a year-round operation again, Skagway could see a huge boost in jobs that would offset the current seasonal employment fluctuation (see sidebar).
Before he was elected mayor, Selmer said he had one hour-long meeting with White Pass’s Hretzay, and said White Pass may bring to the table an idea to containerize ore, similar to what is being done with lead and zinc from the smaller Bellekeno mine and shipped out via Alaska Marine Lines barge. The ore terminal’s current customer, Capstone, ships copper ore in side-dump trucks which are unloaded in the terminal. That ore is then moved on a covered conveyor to the ship loader when ore ships are in port.
Port Commissioner Bourcy cautioned that “there is no way an agreement can come out of the meeting,” because it will require borough assembly approval. He said the commission’s focus is making Gateway a multi-use facility, and it should not “give away things” for one user. While Selwyn is a target potential customer, it is not the only one, he noted. “We have to do our due diligence so as not to lock up the port” if there are changes in the prices of metals that close mines and shut down ore hauls.
Site control is not only a state funding issue, it also would give the municipality “flexibility with users,” Bourcy added. “For us it is about community and jobs.”
Selmer added that one of the big reasons for the meeting was to get AIDEA in the room to “address a reasonable site control resolution for the Ore Dock.” He said AIDEA became nervous when it found out the municipality had considered its Sept. 15 letter of intent proposal to White Pass a “last offer.”
“That scared AIDEA,” the mayor said. “That’s why they wanted to have a meeting on Oct. 6, which couldn’t happen…. This is that meeting rescheduled. I’m there as much to meet with AIDEA as to listen to Selwyn.”
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said AIDEA is interested in talking beyond 2023, because they need agreements in place for their bonding.
Regarding White Pass, Selmer said he believes Hretzay will be representing his shareholders, possibly “to everyone else’s disadvantage,” but he hopes they can work out details of an agreement. “If we can’t then 2023 is 12 years from now.”
Skagway back at highest winter unemployment percentage in Alaska
In the state’s latest unemployment report, released last week, Skagway went from 5 percent unemployment in September to a statewide high of 21.7 percent in October. That figure will go even higher this winter with more seasonal railroad layoffs that occurred in November.
A similar fluctuation occurred in the Denali Borough, another area where there is high visitor season employment. But its unemployment numbers went from 5 percent to 16.2 percent.
Skagway’s October unemployment figure was higher than last year’s figure of 19.6 percent. The civilian work force last month was 645 compared with 611 in October 2010.
The unemployment rolls jumped from 120 in October 2010 to 140 in October 2011. That’s a sharp increase from just 39 drawing unemployment in September 2011.
Overall, Alaska’s unemployment was 7.4 percent in October, a tenth of a point lower than September’s figure and .5 percent lower than last October’s figure of 7.9 percent. Alaska is still doing better than the U.S. rate of 9.0 percent for October. – JB
Low Pullen returns leads to all smolt being released here next spring
By JEFF BRADY
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced last week that it will temporarily suspend the release of king salmon smolt from Pullen Creek into Lutak Inlet for two years in an effort to rebuild returns to the Skagway stream for the program’s egg take.
In recent years, smolt raised from kings that returned to Skagway were divided for release between Pullen and Lutak, said Richard Chappell, the Haines/Skagway area management biologist.
The annual goal is a release of 600,000 smolt, or 300,000 at each site. But in order to meet that level, there needs to be a return of about 100 males and 100 females to Pullen Creek each summer, he said in an e-mail. Each fecund female carries about 6,000 eggs.
Pullen did not come close to that kind of return in 2010 or 2011. After hitting just above or below 100 females in the previous three years, the numbers dropped to 36 in 2010 and just 11 in 2011.
“King salmon returns to Pullen Creek have been poor and egg take goals have not been met for releases in Haines and Skagway for the last two years,” said a Nov. 15 ADF&G press release. “Projected egg takes and adult returns to Pullen Creek demonstrate that if all available smolts are released at Pullen Creek in 2012 and 2013, potential egg collection shortfalls in the future may be reduced or possibly avoided.”
The release noted that anglers should expect king salmon returns from Lutak releases from 2008 through 2011, and that fish will be released there again in 2014. Kings return over five years after release, but females typically return after three years.
Chappell explained the history of the program.
“We have been trying to build up the Pullen Creek broodstock that originated with eggs taken from the Tahini River (near Haines) in 1998,” he said. “We had some big returns to Pullen Creek starting in 2007, so half of the smolt produced from the 2007-2009 brood years were designated for release in Lutak Inlet. There, the smolt were held in a salt water net pen for imprinting before release.”
He added that kings return to the place where they made the transition from fresh to salt water, but there is nowhere in Lutak Inlet for those fish to go when they return as adults.
“When returns are large enough, the plan is to have terminal harvest area regulations in Lutak Inlet to allow all the Lutak Inlet kings to be harvested by sport anglers,” he said. “Of course, some will be incidentally harvested by commercial and subsistence gillnetters, and some will be intercepted by Southeast Alaska trollers, Juneau anglers, Skagway anglers, etc.”
He said that releasing the smolt from brood years 2010 and 2011 in just Pullen Creek “should allow those weak years to produce enough returns to Pullen Creek to continue the release program.”
The DIPAC hatchery in Juneau raises the eggs until they are ready, but it cannot supplement the smolt release with fish from other areas, due to ADF&G’s genetics policy that allows only stocks of local origin to be released.
Skagway residents lose phone service for a day
Many Skagway residents were left without cellular and long-distance communication on Nov. 14 due to the power outage of a repeater at Sullivan Creek, south of Haines.
Those who have cellular contracts with AT&T or ACS stopped receiving service at about 11 a.m., and those with landlines from local carrier Alaska Power & Telephone were unable to make or receive long-distance calls.
Shortly after 11 a.m., AP&T posted on Facebook that AT&T was experiencing a major outage at one of their repeater sites, which was affecting both AT&T and ACS long distance.
“Unfortunately the site is generator powered and both generators have failed and the batteries have been exhausted,” read the post. “They are experiencing a major storm in that area.”
The post also told that the outage was affecting both Skagway and Haines residents’ phone communications and Tok’s Internet connection.
The Internet was rerouted to Tok by 4 p.m. the evening of the outage, but phone service to Haines and Skagway was not restored until the following day.
AT&T Spokeswoman Ann Marshall said dangerous weather conditions prevented a crew from reaching the repeater the day of the outage.
A repair crew was able to helicopter to the site the next day, and phone service returned to Skagway residents shortly after 10 a.m. Nov. 15.
AP&T Skagway Manager Darren Belisle said local staff received a lot of calls from Skagway residents who wanted to know what was happening on Nov. 14.
“The customer service reps handled it beautifully and did a wonderful job fielding questions,” he said. “We were glad to let people know what was happening.”
But Belisle said that some long-distance calls were getting through to landlines.
That evening, Belisle received a call from a friend who was at the Green Bay Packer game at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin. – KE
SNOW BLOSSOMS – Snow gathers on a stalk of Cow Parsnips, commonly known as Alaska wild celery, at Smuggler’s Cove. Winter weather has arrived in all its chilly beauty. Dorothy Brady
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Port Commission liaison requirement change
In a short meeting on Nov. 16, the Skagway Borough Assembly approved first reading of an ordinance that would make it possible to appoint former municipal members to serve as a liaison to the Port Commission.
Currently, only municipal officials and assembly members may serve, and the only other liaison allowed is from the Yukon Government. But with former mayor Tom Cochran’s interest to serve during tidelands lease negotiations with White Pass & Yukon Route, the assembly decided to amend the ordinance so he can still be involved.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he added wording to the ordinance that would amend the municipal code to allow an ex-officio municipal member to serve as a liaison to the Port Commission.
If the ordinance passes its second reading Dec. 1, the code would read, “the mayor shall appoint one assembly member or ex-officio municipal member to serve as liaison between the assembly and the Commission.”
Mayor Stan Selmer said he doesn’t have an issue with this, but he would like to see the ordinance amended to allow an assembly member to have preference over a former municipality official if ever an assembly member would like the position.
Outdoor arts pavilion planning
The Outdoor Arts Facility Committee members met on Nov. 17 to discuss a proposed outline and timeline for the pavilion.
The group agreed that they will shoot for a Feb. 1 date to present the preliminary planning to the Skagway Borough Assembly.
The committee has agreed upon the location for the structure being at the Seven Pastures area and has three possible locations.
Though they have not yet been able to put a figure on the cost of the proposed structure, the group agreed that they would see what available grants and aid are conducive to this kind of project.
“The grants are definitely something valuable to look at,” committee chair Tim Bourcy said.
Bourcy also said it would be a good idea to draft a letter to entities the committee thinks might be interested in donating towards the project’s construction, such as the Rasmuson Foundation and Skagway organizations and businesses. The members agreed that the sooner the letter goes out, the sooner interest could be generated within the community.
The Skagway Arts Council has expressed interest in providing the stage equipment, which includes sound and lights, and Gary Hanson said the council could budget about $15,000 to $20,000 for those items.
When the discussion turned to naming the structure, committee member Mike Korsmo said Mayor Stan Selmer has expressed interest in naming the structure after Barb Kalen, to which other members agreed. The group would like to come up with a name that has alliteration that “rolls off the tongue.”
The members all agreed that the design process would be the toughest part of the process.
Along with the 11 points of the design discussion points, which include deciding on a roof that is fully or partially covered, picking gravel, concrete or grass for the picnic area and figuring out what the seating capacity will be. Dottie DeMark added that she would like to see the structure be artistically pleasing to the eye.
North Words Writers Symposium back in Skagway for 2012
Despite plans for the Third Annual North Words Writers Symposium to be held in Denali in 2012, due to complications it will be returning to Skagway for the third year in a row.
In his quarterly report, Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue wrote that the symposium conflicted with another regional writing conference, which prevented it from being held it Denali this summer, but he plans to try again for 2013.
After a few months of searching, a keynote speaker prospect is in the works.
“Michael Chabon may be our keynote speaker for next year. He is actually a level up from Howard Blum,” Donahue writes. “He has won a Pulitzer and written a book about a fictional Jewish nation in Southeast Alaska.”
The book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, is set in Sitka and was published in 2007.
Donahue said he would know if the Symposium would be able to host Chabon this week. The dates of the NWWS are May 30 through June 2. – KE
GETTING CLOSE – State inspector Jim Stolpe checks the temperature on the newly decked Taiya River bridge last weekend. The crew from North Pacific Erectors was waiting for a final delivery of concrete in the chilly weather to pour a section of the approach. The approach will then be warmed by heaters, as it needs to cure for three to five days. The bridge may be ready for vehicles this weekend. Jeff Brady