December 21, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 23
Holly Jolly Train Crew
Saint Nick arrives with WP&YR conductor John McDermott on the annual Santa Train. About 350 people rode the train after greeting Santa. See more Yuletide shots in the centerspread of our print edition.
Photo by Cody Jennings
Skagway projects would receive $7.2 million in governor’s budget
By KATIE EMMETS
In his proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, Governor Sean Parnell budgeted a total of $7.5 million for two much-needed Skagway renovation projects.
If the governor’s budget for the 2013 fiscal year is approved as is by the Legislature, both the Skagway Small Boat Harbor and the Moore Creek Bridge will receive funding for improvements.
The Small Boat Harbor would receive $5 million through the State of Alaska Municipal Harbor Facility Grant Program for its improvement plan, which is close to being completed.
Because it is a matching grant program, the borough would need to go to the agency with a matching $5 million before it received the grant and is able to move forward with its renovations, said Muncipality of Skagway lobbyist John Walsh.
For the last few years, the program has not been fully funded, and money for Skagway’s Small Boat Harbor was just out of reach, as the municipality was consistently ranked just below those that received funding.
Walsh said he is really optimistic about the full funding of the grant program because two of the program’s architects are legislators, Rep. Bill Thomas and Sen. Bert Stedman.
If passed as is, this would be the first time in the history of this program that it would be fully funded.
“It has been a long time coming that this program is rewarded for its merits,” Walsh said of the grant program. “Harbors bring a lot of impact to communities, and this program is a great way to ensure the money stays within the State of Alaska. I’m really happy the program got recognition from the governor.”
The Municipality would also receive $2.5 million for Moore Creek Bridge repairs if the budget passes as it is proposed.
Walsh said that while major renovations are anticipated for the bridge in coming years, what needs to be worked on now is the resurfacing.
Though exact details as to what the money is intended for have yet to be made public, Walsh said the Alaska Department of Transportation said it is mainly a resurfacing issue and not a reconstruction issue.
The legislative session will begin January 17 and go through April 15.
New Year Resolution: Port deal with White Pass starts with new letter
MOS wants new proposal, meeting with Hretzay, Sahi
By JEFF BRADY
The Municipality of Skagway wants to see a new written proposal from White Pass & Yukon Route for a change in the tidelands lease, as well as a meeting with the company’s president and majority stockholder.
As a follow-up to the recent Skagway port stakeholders meeting in Anchorage, the Skagway Borough Assembly met Dec. 16 to go over the draft letter to WP&YR president Eugene Hretzay. It was approved with an addition to have the majority stockholder and CEO of parent company ClubLink Corp., Rai Sahi, join the discussions. The letter was sent to the municipal attorney for review this week and then will be delivered to White Pass.
“We request your best written offer to jump start this renewed effort and that we would be pleased to meet with you and Mr. Sahi, anytime and anywhere, including Toronto,” the draft letter concluded.
The body of the letter stated that, from the Anchorage breakout session, the municipality believed Hretzay’s position had changed from its last written communication in September.
“It is the municipality’s desire to move forward with White Pass on this matter but it is imperative that we understand the current surrender terms and your desires for future municipal considerations of a continued presence by White Pass on the tidelands owned by the municipality after your current lease expires in 2023,” the letter states.
It cited the company’s long history with the port and its evolution from freight hauler to tourist railroad and noted the following “pertinent points”:
• A port environmental baseline assessement has been received and sent to White Pass.
• $80 million of public financing is now in place for ore facility and dock improvements “and your positive efforts to facilitate this is important.”
• AIDEA is working with a Yukon mining concern to secure Skagway as an “intermodal port for export of their commodities and the backhaul of supplies.”
During discussion, assembly members stated that Sahi should be added, since meetings with Hretzay over the past year had not produced a resolution on the site control issue. Mayor Stan Selmer said they were ready to meet any time, anywhere, as the letter states.
“They have to know that time is of the essence,” he said. “I don’t have to tell them.”
Selmer said his main concern was that no deadline be set in the letter. The last round of written communication in September between the parties set week-long deadlines to agree to language in a “letter of intent,” and the final letter from Hretzay was not even answered by the municipality.
“I don’t want to do that,” he said, adding that he would be “out the door” if communication was handled that way again.
Assemblyman Dan Henry, the lead negotiator for the municipality, said true negotiations need to happen. He said he will need a list of specific goals in regards to revenue stream, length of term, and control of berthing “with a measure of flexibility within those goals.” And the goal of the negotiations will be to bring something fruitful back for formal approval.
The assembly then went into executive session for an hour to discuss those negotiations with members of the Port Commission and Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue present. At one point, they invited Paul Taylor of Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. into the room for a few minutes. When they emerged, the mayor briefly noted the upcoming audit of White Pass subleases by maritime attorney Brena, Bell and Clarkson, and said they will be sending a delegation to the Vancouver Mining Roundup at the end of January.
Skagway tug sent to help disabled fuel barge
A fuel barge bound for Skagway was delayed this week after the tug that was pushing it became partially disabled in the Gulf of Alaska.
A Skagway tugboat crew was asked to assist the 95-foot tug Nathan E. Stewart and barge, which was carrying more than 2.5 million gallons of fuel.
The commercial tug Le Cheval Rouge, captained by Mike Korsmo and crewed by Zach Ellis, Kyle Fairbanks and Jason Roman, was at Hawk Inlet assisting an ore ship when it received a distress call from the other tug Sunday evening.
At 11:32 a.m. Monday, the Skagway crew successfully took the disabled tugboat into tow 22 nautical miles southwest of Cape Fairweather, stated a U.S. Coast Guard release.
The Coast Guard was alerted at 12:45 p.m. Sunday that the Nathan E. Stewart, which was pushing the 287-foot fuel barge, had a failure with its starboard engine near Cape Fairweather, leaving the tugboat with reduced power.
It was en route from Valdez to Skagway.
The barge was on track to make port in Skagway at about noon on Monday Dec. 19 to deliver its 2.5 million gallons of diesel fuel and 1,000 gallons of jet fuel, but it is now set to arrive on Wednesday. — KE
Student count drops below 60, due to rise slightly next year ;Operating budget meetings begin in Jan.
By KATIE EMMETS
The time has rolled around for the Skagway School Board to determine its operating budget for next school year, which will see an increase of about four students after years of falling numbers.
This year’s October count resulted in a decades-low 58 students at the school, but Superintendent Jeff Thielbar anticipates there being 62 students during the 2012-2013 school year, which is the number the board will be using to determine the school’s budget for next year.
The high school will be graduating six students this year, but Thielbar said there are about 10 preschool-aged kids who will be entering elementary school in August.
“I’m really glad to see the student count going up,” Thielbar said. “It’s a slow movement up, but it’s better than the falling numbers we’ve had.”
Schools are funded using a formula, which ultimately determines how much money a school gets from the state on a per-student basis.
The state formula is also based upon the property values of a town, For the 2011-2012 school year, the base allocation amount per student was $5,680.
“The municipality provides most of our funding for the school district,” he said, adding that as far as he knows, the assembly has always funded to the cap, the number which is required for the school to operate, plus an outside-the-cap budget.
Thielbar said he anticipates the operating budget being about the same as it was last year, but foresees the board asking for less money from the assembly.
“We are going to be more frugal with our request,” he said.
Because the amount the school requested for technology in last year’s budget was specific to items that were a one-time-only purchase, the school will not be asking as much as it did last year for that area.
Last year, the assembly passed a Skagway School budget that gave it $1,255,091, which funded the school to its cap, and also an additional $472,981 outside of its operating budget for things such as the preschool, food services, sports, and the technical program.
Thielbar said the only area the school might be requesting more funding in is capital projects, which would include a new outdoor storage hut and possible new lighting fixtures, but this budget would be separate from the operating budget.
The school board will be holding a public meeting on January 11 at 7 p.m. to discuss its proposed budget, and is looking forward to hearing what residents have to say.
“We’d love to get community input, and we would like to invite the members of the assembly to come too, so they can see what we are planning,” Thielbar said.
NCL returns third cruise ship to Alaskan waters
Norwegian Cruise Line announced on Dec. 6 that it will be adding a third ship to its Alaskan fleet in 2013.
The Norwegian Sun will take its first voyage north May 20, 2013, and it will visit Skagway both northbound and southbound. The northbound trips start in Vancouver, and makes stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, and its southbound trips begin in Whittier and sail to Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Ketchikan.
According to a release from Governor Sean Parnell, adding the Sun to Alaskan ports has the potential to bring in about 40,000 new visitors and about $40 million in direct and indirect spending within the state. When combined with a projected increase of 60,000 passengers in 2012, the health of Alaska’s visitor industry has improved considerably since losing more than 265,000 visitors and 5,000 jobs in recent years, the release said.
Norwegian had cut its fleet to two ships visiting Alaska in response to the state’s cruise passenger excise tax. NCL also will be replacing the Norwegian Star with the Norwegian Jewel, which holds 2,376 passengers. – KE
Cindy O’Daniel receives 2011 Helen B. Clark Award
Youth leader, supporter and coach honored
Local youth advocate Cindy O’Daniel was named the winner of the 25th annual Helen B. Clark Award for volunteer service in the community. In making the announcement at last weekend’s Yuletide Ball, News publisher Jeff Brady, who sponsors the award, said it was a hard choice again and a very close vote by the judging panel.
O’Daniel, who was first nominated for the award in 2008, was recognized for working with children of all ages.
In his statement announcing the award, Brady said: “This year’s winner has been an active member of our community for many years. She started out serving several years on the child care council board and helping out with Little League, and then working with children of all ages. She is a fixture, along with her husband, at the Elks burger feeds and other school fundraisers, putting in at least 15 years of baking things for her two daughter’s classes from kindergarten on up, and she has a couple years to go. She has helped with the Elks Hoop and Soccer Shoots, coached intramurals, been a chaperone, and most recently the high school volleyball coach.
“Then, in the summer she has been just as busy. She ran the Little League program for a decade, and has been director of the successful 4th of July International Softball Tournament for the adults for the past 15 years. She also has set up and ran the successful basketball camps here for the past few years, and found time to participate and volunteer in various health-related fundraisers like the annual breast cancer walk. Lastly, according to her husband, her hardest job has been keeping him out of trouble the past 20 years.”
The committee also gave special recognition to Linda Bigham, a new nominee, for her many years as the only on-call nurse in the community for the old White Pass Hospital and Dahl Memorial Clinic.
Helen Clark was the first recipient of Skagway’s Community Service award 25 years ago, and agreed to have the award named for her so generations would remember her volunteer spirit. The award can recognize volunteer work in the community over the past year, or a lifetime of service. It is sponsored by The Skagway News Co.
Every November nominations are accepted from the public. Then the selection committee of past winners goes over a list of nominees from the past few years and chooses a winner.
MOST EGG-CELLENT – Members of Skagway team Egg-streme Egg-sperts celebrate winning for best researched project at the Juneau Robot Jamboree. The team qualified for next month’s state tournament in Anchorage. See story on page 5. Mary Thole
Skagway robotics garners best presentation
Egg-cellent showing qualifies team for State tournament in January
By JEFF BRADY
JUNEAU – Their team name leaves no doubt what about what they know, and they backed it up with an Egg-cellent performance.
Skagway team “Egg-streme Egg-sperts” won the award for best research at the Juneau Robot Jamboree on Dec. 10, scoring a perfect score in their project presentation, “Which method preserves eggs best?”
With high scores in presentation, core values and robot design, the team was in the running for the championship among 20 teams from all over Southeast Alaska. All they needed was to score in the top 40 percent for their robot missions, but they just missed the cut with a top score of 96 points over three rounds. The top tier of mission scores were in the 99-125 range.
Still, the team easily qualified as one of the top 10 teams eligible to go to the state meet in Anchorage on Jan. 21, and the young team has a month to get their robot to perform better.
This year’s team consists of seventh grader captain Denver Evans, the only returning member from last year’s team, sixth grader Kara Whitehead, and fifth graders Madison Cox, Shane Sims and Danny Brady.
Elementary teacher Mary Thole, a first-year coach, repeatedly told the team how proud she was of them, after reviewing how they scored. Along with having a “beautifully organized binder” and offering “creative solutions, the team was great engaging and involving others, working independently without their coach in the room, and scored highest in the category of “gracious professionalism.” They were considered for all three presentation awards and won for research.
“They worked hard and pushed themselves in all areas of competition,” Thole said on the ferry ride home. “The key was they were so supportive of each other and worked as a team. They worked under pressure with such grace.”
The team had also written a letter to the judges, thanking their mentors – Riley Westfall, Rosalie Westfall, and Trevor Cox – all members of the new high school team. For this, they received the Juneau event’s mentoring award.
Half of the teams were from Juneau schools and clubs. The Juneau Girl Scouts had two teams that were the champion and runner-up, while a Cub Scouts team had a near-perfect robot mission. The Skagway team bonded with team “Gang Green” from Haines. There also were teams from Hoonah, Ketchikan and Metlakatla.
The Skagway team did its project, core values elements, and robot design presentations in rooms with judges, and then they got to show off their robot, “Shrink-a-Dink”, on a variety of missions before a crowd of about 300 in the main event pits.
The Skagway robot received its name after it was slimmed down over the past two months of practices, team members said. It went from looking more like a monster excavator to a smaller Bobcat. The fast-paced missions are performed on the same board that every First Lego League team in the world is using this year under the theme “Food Factor Challenge.” The missions vary from capturing a rat to harvesting corn and fish, all while minimizing the spread of little bacteria. The robots do their tasks with various attachments meant to trip levers and bump things to score points, with even more points collected if the robot delivers items back to base. All in the span of just three and half minutes.
Early on, in the practice rounds, the Skagway team learned that they could rack up points in other ways, and made some calls to the Westfalls and worked with event robot “Doctor” Johnny Elliott to tweak their robot. The missions were more successful later, but they came up a little short. In the interim between regional and state competitions, the team is working on totally new missions meant to rack up lots of points.
The project presentation part was perfect. Before going to Juneau, the team presented to about 50 community members. It was so good before the judges that Egg-streme Egg-sperts was one of only two teams asked to present their projects for the awards ceremony at the end of the day.
Backed up with their own Powerpoint presentation, the five students memorized their lines and spoke clearly about their project, with a little hip hop chanting at the beginning to snag the audience’s attention.
Left, Skagway team members react as their robot tries to harvest some corn; right (from left) Shane Sims, Danny Brady, Denver Evans, Kara Whitehead, and Madison Cox perform. Jeff Brady
The project involved gathering up eggs from a team member’s chicken house, and then finding the safest method of preserving and cooking them, and which flavoring methods worked best. They interviewed a scientist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and gleaned information from several food safety websites.
Here are some highlights from each student, who handed canning jars of eggs back and forth without dropping a jar or a line:
Evans: “While talking with an expert, we discovered that pressure canning eggs is the best for preserving them, but it can have some dangers. Roxie (UAF) taught us the procedure of collecting, cleaning and preserving.”
Sims: “We did extensive research about the egg journey from chicken to table (and then showed various websites).”
Cox: “We also learned about contamination dangers, real cases of people who have suffered from these dangerous illnesses, and the methods presently used for egg preservation.”
Whitehead: “We pressure canned the three jars of eggs at 230 degrees Fahrenheit. We observed and recorded any changes in the jars twice a week for eight weeks. We expected we would see the first change from the plain eggs because it didn’t have the preserving ingredients like the pickled and smoked eggs (the best tasting).”
Brady: “We have two solution recommendations. One is to have a workshop in our community to teach people how to smoke fresh eggs at home, and our second solution would be to have a pickling company test our idea of pressure canning smoked eggs to sell in stores.”
The team has interest from Porky Products, a national food distribution company, and several local residents signed up for a workshop that will be held in January.
At the end of the presentation, the students thanked everyone for watching.
“We were very Egg-cited to present today!”
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
West Creek feasibility study grant denied by AEA
The proposed West Creek hydropower project was recently denied funding for a feasibility study by the Alaska Energy Authority, and Mayor Stan Selmer is questioning the reasoning behind the decision.
On Dec. 14, Butch White of the AEA sent an e-mail explanation as to why the West Creek hydro feasibility study will not be funded this year, citing four reasons for the decision.
First, the AEA has already committed funding for regional projects such as Connelly Lake, Schubee Lake and Burro Creek reconnaissance and feasibility assessments, and the authority feels as if those projects, which are close in distance, would be competing to meet the same loads as the proposed West Creek hydro project.
However, Mayor Stan Selmer said the above statement is incorrect. In the long run, Selmer said either the Connelly Lake or Schubee Lake hydro project would be constructed – not both. He also said that none of those projects would be built large enough to power more than one cruise ship or entice the Yukon to Skagway for the exporting of excess energy like the proposed West Creek project would.
White wrote that, according to the Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Plan, the least-cost course of action in the Upper Lynn Canal does not include adding hydro capacity until 2050, which was the second reason for not funding the study.
“Well certainly if we are looking at least-cost options, not spending money would be the least cost,” Selmer said in response to White’s statement.
Selmer also added that AP&T is currently trying to license a project that would add capacity in the next five years.
“Given that the chief aim of the West Creek project is to supply the shore-based cruise shipload, AEA questions the amount of public benefit to be received versus the high capital cost and high technical business and regulatory risks of the proposed project,” was the third reason White stated in the e-mail.
Selmer said he doesn’t think the AEA understands the health benefits to the public. Thousands of tons of air pollution emitted by cruise ships would be eliminated if the ships were powered by a hydro source.
The fourth reason White gave for not funding the study was permitting risks that could occur because the project would affect the waters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Selmer said the reason the borough asked for money for the feasibility study is to determine what risks might occur with construction. Without the study, there is no telling how difficult obtaining permits would actually be.
Selmer said he realized the water flow would be changed, but ultimately, the same amount of water would be put into the Pacific Ocean as occurs right now.
Selmer is used to working with KGRNHP when it comes to hydro projects.
During the construction of Goat Lake hydro project, Selmer, then an AP&T manager, worked closely with park historian Karl Gurcke to ensure all cultural and natural resources were undisturbed.
After reading the reasoning behind the rejection for funding, Slemer said he feels as if the AEA doesn’t fully understand the motives behind the West Creek hydro project.
He also added that he thinks there are two main reasons that were left off the e-mail list that prevented money for the study.
The first being that the AEA might not be too keen on selling power to Canada, and the second is that the state wants to build a hydro project northwest of Anchorage that would provide hundreds of megawatts of power to Alaskan rail belt communities.
At the Dec. 16 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Selmer relayed the news of the funding request denial and asked the assembly if they would like to send a letter to the AEA in appeal.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he thinks the project would still need a lot of community input if the decision to fund the study is overturned.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said he would like to send a letter of appeal to get the assembly’s views on record.
“Even if we lose this year, we can still apply next year,” Hunz said. “And they will have this year’s letter on record to show them how we feel about it.”
The five members present agreed that it would be a good idea to send an appeal letter.
Selmer said Borough Manager Tom Smith would draft it. The deadline for the appeal letter is Dec. 29. – KE
Achieving quorum with teleconferencing proposed
An ordinance was introduced in a Dec. 16 meeting that, if passed, would make it possible for the Skagway Borough Assembly to achieve quorum with teleconferencing.
Currently, code states that four assembly members must be physically present to establish quorum for meetings, but Ordinance No. 11-30 would change the wording to allow four members of the assembly to be present physically or telephonically to establish a quorum.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said that though he would vote in favor of the proposed ordinance during its first reading, he’s not sure if he will do the same for the second reading.
“I wasn’t a huge fan of the teleconference thing, but it has been sort of nice,” Korsmo said. “It’s worked in our favor.”
But Korsmo said if the ordinance passes, assembly members might take advantage of it and use it as a reason to not stay in town for the winter months.
Mayor Stan Selmer said he recognized that not many residents are coming forward to participate in local politics, and that this ordinance, if passed, might encourage those who are out of town for a few months during the year to run for assembly seats.
Selmer also said that recently, a few important meetings were rescheduled because the assembly wasn’t able to have the required number of four members present with some of its members being out of town.
That week’s assembly meeting was moved from its regularly scheduled Dec. 15 timeslot of 7 p.m. to the following day at 1:30 p.m. because only three members would have been available that Thursday.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said details, such as how many people are in attendance, are not known during teleconferences, and added it is also part of the commitment the members have to attend the meetings.
The first reading of the ordinance passed with a 5-0 vote. – KE