December 9, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 22
Merry and Bright
Pre-school and elementary kids sing Christmas songs for the ‘Cirque du Skagway’ program at the school. See more photos from the start of the Yuletide celebration on pages 6 and 7 of our print edition. Complete Yuletide photo gallery from both December issues will be posted after the holidays.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Port meeting progress but still major hurdles
Movement needed on tidelands site control
By JEFF BRADY
The recent Skagway port stakeholders meeting in Anchorage was viewed as a “highly productive” gathering of port users, but there was frustration with the municipality being no closer to a deal on altering the tidelands lease with White Pass than it was a year ago.
Waiting impatiently for answers is a potential Yukon mining customer that wants a resolution in a couple months.
The meeting lasted all day at the Anchorage Hilton on Nov. 29. It began with a series of statements from the various parties – Municipality of Skagway, White Pass & Yukon Route, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. – which included several “must haves.” After a lunch break to discuss strategy, there were two break-out sessions between municipal officials and White Pass, and between the municipality, Selwyn Chihong and AIDEA.
These are the known positions:
• White Pass president Eugene Hretzay says he wants a deal and will give up the western half of the tidelands lease for the municipality to commence Ore Dock improvements, but the company has cash flow concerns and wants an extension of 20-40 years beyond the current lease’s end in 2023 to be the cruise terminal operator on that dock, as well as holding on to the Broadway Dock. He also conveyed a new concern that White Pass wants to be indemnified from any environmental liability for historic contamination of the ore basin, especially if the municipality dredges the basin for the Gateway Project and stirs up “a sleeping dog.” He said he could not sell the deal to his board without such a provision.
• The municipality has never agreed on cruise terminal operator extensions for the railroad on the Ore Dock beyond 2023, which was added to a draft letter of intent by Hretzay after summer negotiations, nor had it received any prior communication from the White Pass president about environmental liability. A recent environmental baseline study commissioned by the municipality shows that the lead-zinc contamination has moved out of the harbor and should no longer be a concern.
• White Pass will commence building the small floating dock addition to the Ore Dock so it may receive larger cruise ships in 2013 or 2014.
• The municipality and White Pass appear closer to agreeing on a figure for economic compensation for the amount of revenue the company would lose from subleases that would be taken over by the municipality for the remainder of the lease until 2023. White Pass also would have a drastically reduced lease payment. There was an agreement to have an audit, which will commence soon. If there is no agreement on the cruise terminal operator issue, then the parties may just deal with the north section of the ore dock that is due to be replaced in phase one of the Gateway Project.
• AIDEA wants to start negotiating a lease for the ore terminal beyond 2023. “AIDEA definitely made it clear that the main task for them is to extend their lease past 2023,” said municipal lobbyist John Walsh. “They would like 20 years and the ability to extend. They would like to begin work on that ASAP with the assembly.”
• Selwyn Chihong is concerned there may not be a resolution between the parties in the next two months to meet their deadlines for completing a bankable feasibility study. The mine wants to start up in 2015 and be fully operational by 2017. It showed municipal officials an alternative plan for a new ore dock south of the current TEMSCO heliport, but then pulled the drawings off the table, not wishing to make them public at this time. It also is concerned about operating in an area where there is an uncertainty about prior liability.
Following the meetings, some of the representatives made statements to the press.
“I think the meeting was very productive,” WP&YR’s Hretzay said. “I believe that we have the makings of a letter of intent. We discussed some authority issues, and there is a spirit of good will amongst the parties at the table to proceed to an expeditious resolution of this matter so the municipality can move forward with their port development plans.”
Mayor Stan Selmer added: “I believe that Eugene has represented the accomplishments of the day fairly. There are some issues that need to be addressed at the assembly level … and then we can move forward with trying to get the issue resolved through a letter of intent.”
Dr. Harlan Meade, president of Selwyn Chihong, gave a lengthy statement in which he addressed the mine’s reasoning about a possible separate facility: “Certainly, through these meetings, although we’d like to be encouraged that there is a resolution of issues between various participants, at this juncture we’re uncertain as to whether that is actually reasonable or could happen in a reasonable time frame. As such, we continue to support an alternative dock proposal which would see a facility built off the end of the existing lease areas that is not within the banks of the river itself, but off the end. And we see that as an attractive opportunity, largely because of its expandability and its ability to meet future demand, even beyond what Selwyn Chihong is currently considering. We think that’s important because we know there are other companies working in the Yukon who hope to develop their mines and would like to use the facility at Skagway…. We think, given the scarcity of capital, it might make sense to look at such a facility because it would certainly have greater capacity than upgrades to the current ore dock.”
Meade added that issues need to be addressed soon.
“I have to say, though, that Selwyn Chihong is running out of time,” he said. “It needs to resolve these issues in the next couple of months or it will have to go looking at the alternatives.”
In his statement, Walsh, the municipal lobbyist, said the meetings were “hugely productive” but noted there are still significant differences between White Pass and the borough that did not get resolved.
“I don’t think we’re dead in the water, but there are still complications with respect to site control,” he said.
Walsh reported on the meetings via teleconference at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Skagway Borough Assembly. Mayor Selmer, Assemblyman Dave Hunz, Port Commissioner Tim Bourcy, and Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue also gave their impressions.
Walsh and Selmer mentioned there was obvious tension in the morning briefings between White Pass president Hretzay and Selwyn Chihong president Meade, so they took up Bourcy’s suggestion to split them up in the afternoon. In the morning, Hretzay and Meade had clashed over whether containerized shipments by rail was a viable alternative to transporting ore versus the mine’s plans to have the ore shipped to Skagway by trucks that dump the product into AIDEA’s storage termimal. Hretzay said he had cost studies that support containerized rail and added that the National Park Service was concerned about more trucks on the highway. Meade said he would like to see that cost study, but they have not seen anything that says rail is cheaper than trucking at this point, Walsh reported. Meade also said moving containerized product is “impractical on its face” because the ships and receiving ports for the lead-zinc concentrate are not configured to handle containers.
Hunz said he conveyed during the break-out session with Hretzay that he could not support a cruise terminal agreement beyond 2023 and that he did not think there would be four affirmative votes at the assembly table. At that point, he said they started talking about looking at just the north end “cell dock”improvement but did not get far with those discussions.
Bourcy said it was evident there were multiple parties present that wanted to achieve a common goal, and another party that was in a protectionist mode, which he said was understandable.
“White Pass has a concern with regard to a business they have spent many years developing, and they do not want to see that upset,” Bourcy said.
After meeting with AIDEA and Selwyn, Bourcy said there was “some frustration from both a potential user and the state on what the municipality had and had not done.”
Donahue said it was obvious, especially for Selwyn, that “time is of the essence and we have some legal issues that need to be resolved sooner than later, because these guys are looking, in three and a half years time, shipping ore to the port of Skagway.”
From a tourism standpoint, Donahue said he did not see any challenges, noting there would still be room for growth in the visitor industry.
“We can continue to be a tourist destination and also an industrial destination,” he said.
Present during the Anchorage meeting was Tony Guerriero, an attorney specializing in maritime issues from the firm Brena, Bell and Clarkson. The assembly agreed to retain the firm for up to $18,000 to assist the municipality in consultation with borough attorney Bob Blasco. The motion approved by the assembly would have the work “include a compliance audit of the existing White Pass waterfront lease, and a legal analysis of the Skagway eminent domain rights obligations.”
Assemblyman Dan Henry, the lead negotitator, said he needs a clear direction from the assembly on its goals, as well as what points they can be flexible on. Then the team would try to get as close to an agreement as possible, with word appropriately given, and bring it back for concurrence.
He added that it needs to be understood that “everyone involved wants to enhance their own interest.”
A special meeting was scheduled for Wednesday evening to discuss a potential lease with AIDEA post-2023, and go over a draft letter to White Pass which Selmer said will ask the company to come back to the municipality with something in writing. However, the meeting was cancelled due to lack of a quorum. The agenda also listed an executive session to discuss tidelands lease negotiations. It was not known at press time when the meeting would be rescheduled or if the items would carry over to the Dec. 15 regular meeting.
EPA working with Skagway to get waste water in compliance
By KATIE EMMETS
It is no secret that Skagway’s wastewater treatment pant is out of compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards, but the recent release of an EPA watch list has some Skagway residents worried.
In 2004, the EPA created a list of areas with facilities that were out of compliance in three major areas: the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (which controls hazardous waste) and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.
This list was not made available to the public, and recently, the EPA received a Freedom of Information Act request from the Center for Public Information in conjunction with National Public Radio to release the list. The watch list from the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance was posted to the EPA website in October.
Lauris Davies, associate director for the office of compliance and enforcement in Region 10, said that although the EPA likes to release as much information as possible, it is a little sensitive about this particular list.
Davies said the watch list was created not for the facilities that are in violation, but for the agency to be efficient about its enforcements.
“The list is an internal management tool to see how timely we are to getting facilities back into compliance,” Davies said, adding that the watch list was mainly for tracking the EPA’s progress in getting the facilities off the list.
Though she did not know an exact amount, Davies said the Municipality of Skagway has been on the watch list for a number of years for being out of compliance in the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.
The watch list changes from month to month based on the data that comes from the treatment plants.
“Anyone who discharges waste water needs a permit, and there is a limit on the amount of pollution that can be discharged,” she said.
Each month, the facility is required to enter its Discharge Monitoring Report, which is entered into a database that compiles the watch list.
When Skagway’s pollution discharge is in compliance according to its monthly monitoring report, the municipality will be taken off the list.
Skagway reached a settlement with EPA in 2006 and agreed to pay a reduced $18,000 fine and upgrade its plant.
Though she was not able to speak on which pollutants Skagway is in violation of, Davies said some examples of pollutant discharge the EPA keeps a close eye on include fecal coliform, suspended solids, the amount of oxygen in the water, total residual chlorine and water color.
Each treatment plant’s permit varies on how much of each pollutant can be discharged, and the permits are reevaluated and changed upon examination every five years to keep up with population changes, facility changes and new businesses moving into the area.
It is common for municipalities to take a long time to make changes to their water treatment facilities due to the securing of funding, grants and permitting, and Davies said the EPA is very understanding of these issues.
Over the years, the EPA has kept in touch with the municipality to track changes and developments.
Skagway’s wastewater treatment plant is not one that needs to make a small change such as tweaking its discharge or adding a finishing treatment to its wastewater to become compliant, Davies said.
There are large-scale changes that need to be made, and Davies said the municipality has been very vigilant with working towards making them.
Borough Manager Tom Smith said the wastewater treatment plant, located at 1st Avenue and Main Street, is currently undergoing a major renovation, and that improvements will increase both treatment capacity and quality.
The renovations will cost about $3.6 million. Smith said the construction bid was awarded last March, with work beginning shortly after that by McGraw of Sitka. The upgrade is due be completed in March 2012.
“We’re doing this project because we want to be in compliance and make the plant as good as we possibly can,” Smith said. “This is the building block for having a safe and healthy community.”
Post Office finally hires more ‘temporary’ staff
Skagway’s post office now has two familiar faces behind the counter, and residents are thankful to see them.
Local residents Sharon Lepich and Aryann Burnham were recently hired as temporary employees for the post office – just in time for the holiday season.
Because there is a national hiring freeze for the United States Postal Service, only temporary workers are gaining employment.
Though there has been talk of Skagway residents wanting to get jobs at the post office, former Skagway Postmaster Elaine Brummett said the interest was not that high. Hopefuls apparently did not follow through with the lengthy application process for the temporary jobs.
Brummett, who was here for a month while Postmaster Donna McMullin was on vacation, said that applying for jobs with the USPS has drastically changed through the years, and it now includes an online application, a manual application and a few interviews.
She added that it is cheaper for the post office to hire locally than to bring someone who is already employed with the post office from another branch.
McMullin had been working alone since the end of the summer season, and the municipality recently sent letters to the congressional delegation about the service needs in Skagway.
An official from the USPS Alaska central office in Anchorage did not return phone calls in time for this story. – KE
SCAFFOLD ARTISTS – From left, NPS workers Clayton Harris, Andy Nichols, Jeff Neis, Scott Logan, and Cory Thole (not pictured Stimee Boggs). Katie Emmets
Outdoor art aesthetics
Scaffolding Xmas tree, unique fence lighten up community
By KATIE EMMETS
The National Park Service has added some holiday cheer to the community with its construction of a multicolored holiday tree.
The tree, located just off Broadway on 4th Avenue between the Pantheon Building and the Mountain Shop, is constructed from the Safway Services scaffolding that was used for projects and improvements to some of Skagway’s NPS buildings, which include the Arctic Meat Company and the Pantheon’s Junior Ranger Center.
NPS’s Cory Thole said the idea for the tree came from co-worker Scott Logan before Halloween, when the scaffolding was taken off of the buildings.
Logan saw all of the scaffolding and wanted to make something fun, like a tree, Thole said.
Thole started working on the designs, and the team ultimately went with a three-post center that has different length scaffolding pieces coming out of it, starting with longer ones at the bottom and getting gradually shorter towards the top.
“I would have to say it is closest to a Douglas fir,” Thole said with a laugh.
There are 150 individual pieces of scaffolding that construct both the tree, which is about 19 feet wide at its base and 26 feet tall, and the fence that surrounds it.
Because it is a non-religious holiday tree, the maintenance crew picked Snoopy to be the tree topper.
“And it is very much a Charlie Brown tree because there are no needles on it,” Thole said, making a reference to the wimpy tree that was chosen for a Christmas Pageant in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Six NPS maintenance employees constructed the tree, and it took about eight hours to complete.
Logan said the tree is lit by LED lights that are turned on at dusk and off at dawn with the help of a photo sensor.
“The tree lighting was very unceremonial,” Logan said. “We didn’t have a big tree lighting. We got done, plugged them in and walked away.”
Though it may look like fun to play on, Thole stressed the importance of the tree not being a climbing structure.
“We put different signs with clip art on the fence,” he said. “One says, ‘Be nice and safe, not naughty and mangled,’ and another has a picture of someone falling and saying ‘ahhhhh’.”
Thole said he enjoyed working on the holiday tree and hopes that it spreads holiday cheer to the community.
It remains to be seen if the Rappleye-Jackson creation at 10th and Alaska will keep napping tourists out. Katie Emmets
Hodgepodge fence completed
Su Rappleye and John Jackson have constructed a fence that is both unique and historic to Skagway.
By taking pieces that date back to the late 1800s, the couple designed and built the fence as a team.
Their wooden vertical-post fence on 10th Avenue and Alaska Street went up about three years ago after they had some unexpected lawn guests.
“I got a call from a friend who asked me if I knew I had people laying in my side yard,” Rappleye said. “I went outside and found a couple of tourists laying in the yard on blankets.”
After she told the tourists that they were laying on private property, they told her she had a beautiful yard, to which she agreed.
“I knew I needed to put up a fence after that,” she said.
Since they moved into the house they now live in, Rappleye said she had wanted to use Jackson’s train parlor car doors he acquired when working for White Pass & Yukon Route for a project, and the fence, it seemed, was just the ticket. She also wanted to add windows to the fence, and began inquiring about old windows around town and “eyeballing people’s stashes” in their yards.
When Rappleye and Jackson were out of town in the Lower 48, they would drive around and look at fences to get ideas. The fence that most inspired theirs was found in Sheridan, Wyoming, where Jackson’s mother was living.
Rappleye said the fence is a tribute to those who can’t throw anything out.
“There are uses for everything that you save, but you get to a point when you wonder what you are saving these things for if they aren’t in use,” she said.
So she actively began looking for things people were storing around town to make use of them.
“It’s sort of a common theme in Skagway to tuck things away for later,” she said.
From residents around town, Rappleye received windows from the old jail which was housed in the McCabe Building, windows from the old WP&YR commissary building, which was torn down after the reopening of the railroad, and Jackson’s train parlor car doors that date back to the 1880s.
Rappleye and Jackson also included a wooden ironing board they found in their house and a sign from Rappleye’s old business, Miss Kitty’s.
With Rappleye’s design plans, Jackson constructed the fence additions while she was out of town attending a class in Tennessee. By working on the fence for a few days, for about three hours a day, he completed it on Oct. 26.
For the most part, the fence is done, but Rappleye said there are still a few more pieces that may make it onto the fence in the future.
The Taiya River Bridge is now open to vehicle traffic after being closed for two months for a reconstruction of its bottom supports and deck. Jeff Brady
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Small Boat Harbor design changes approved
At its Dec. 1 meeting, the Skagway Borough Assembly approved the 65 percent design document for the upcoming Small Boat Harbor project from engineer URS. This included a few design changes for phase one:
• The south gangway ramp will be changed so it runs in an east-west direction down to a widened A-float. The reasoning for this was to have a more direct route for the 96,000 shuttle ferry and tour passengers that use A-float each year. During the seawall project a few years ago, the ramp was changed to a north-south configuration. With a return to an east-west configuration, the float will be widened to 18 feet. As a result of this, the south trestle at the top of the ramp will not have to be widened, but the old gangway can be reused. In a letter, URS said the ramp was in good shape. There is an anticipated net cost savings of $60,760 with the design change and reusing the gangway.
• A drive-down boat launch previously proposed for the west side of the harbor was changed to a walk-down launch float system on the east side, which will result in a net savings of $712,800, according to the engineer. The drive-down option was to be deferred to a later phase because of its expense.
• Dredging under A-float and the harbor entrance was changed from a depth of minus-14 feet to minus-18 feet to accommodate tug boats.
Construction will occur in the winter to minimize impacts to the fuel float, which will have to be moved during the work.
A later full build-out phase would have the fuel float move to the west side of the harbor. It would be protected by a bulkhead and connected to a new work float and drive-down float.
The design changes were approved on 5-0 votes (Paul Reichert was absent), and URS is now on a schedule to have 95 percent drawings to the municipality on Jan. 11, 2012.
The harbor project currently has $5.4 million in the bank from state appropriations and municipal bonding, but the preferred full build-out is expected to cost more that twice that amount. The project remains the borough’s top priority project for state capital improvement money. The borough is seeking further funding from the Alaska Harbor Matching Grant program and the federal Denali Commission, and it may seek funds from the state’s cruise vessel passenger tax.
Additional summer clinic position will be full-time
The assembly approved a resolution adding a “full-time clinic temporary summer position” to the pay scale, and also passed first reading of an ordinance that will amend the budget to fund the position.
The Dahl Memorial Clinic Board suggested adding the receptionist/medical assistant position because of the increase in summer business and revenues brought on by expanded hours. Clinic Administrator Shelly Moss said the person would work from April 15 to Sept. 15.
“The extended hours is something the community has loved and wants more,” Moss said.
The position was endorsed by the Finance Committee, but Assemblyman Dave Hunz questioned if the title meant that the person would receive full-time benefits. Moss said the position title was modeled after the seasonal police position, which means the person will work full-time during the summer season as a temporary hire, and therefore receive no benefits.
Borough Manager Tom Smith said the job description specifically says the position does not have a benefits package. Starting salary will be $18.07 per hour.
The budget amendment ordinance, if it passes second reading on Dec. 15, would have the position funded by additional service charges of $8,895 from the increased hours of operation. – JB
Bob Deitrick tests his aim with the new virtual fire extinguisher at the Skagway Fire Dept. open house last week. Andrew Cremata
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Art Festival uncertain
During the Nov. 29 Skagway School Board meeting, Superintendent Jeff Thielbar brought up plans for an upcoming Region V Art Festival.
Last year, the district committed holding the 2013 art festival in Skagway, but as the time gets closer, Thielbar, community members and board members expressed worries.
Activities Director Becky Jenson, who would be planning the festival, said the undertaking of this event would be a “huge, huge endeavor.”
Along with hosting a festival in Skagway without a proper art program at the school, the Skagway School and the community would have to get artists together to run the festival, buy supplies for the projects, shut the school down for the three days of the festival, and find housing for all of the students and their chaperones.
“As an AD, it frightens me to try to organize something of this magnitude,” she said. “Everyone would love to have it here, but we see the concerns as well.”
Board member Darren Belisle said he is hesitant to host the art festival here because of the scale of the project, but that the school should think about having something that would be of a similar benefit for the students in Skagway in addition to sending them to the art festival each year.
Before the board rules out hosing the festival, board member Cara Cosgrove said she would like to talk to community members and the Skagway Arts Council to see if something like this would be possible and accepted by the community.
Cory Thole has resigned as the full-time science teacher of Skagway School. Thole, who currently works for the National Park Service in the maintenance department, was taking a year-long leave from teaching to receive a math teaching certification, but has decided to stay with NPS.
“Cory Thole is a great teacher, but his personal decision is being made for his family, and family is number one,” Thielbar said. “I am sorry to see him go.”
Thole said that with he and his wife Mary both teaching last year, they were juggling time with their son and having to hire a baby sitter a lot. If he came out of a week working 60 hours, it was considered a light week, Thole said.
“By only working four days a week (with NPS), it allows us to keep up with our own projects of designing and building our house, and it allows me to support Mary to pursue her passions in education such as working on the curriculum committee and with the robotics team,” he said.
Thole said this decision was a hard one to make, and that he will miss not being with the students every day, but he still plans on being involved with the yearly science fair and the Smithsonian trip.
Thielbar said he plans to offer the full-time teaching position to interim science teacher Thomas Diehl, and if he does not accept it, the position will be nationally posted.
Rick Ackerman has also resigned as the middle school boy’s basketball coach, and the position is currently open. – KE