February 26, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 3
LIT BY LED
The new LED street lights make Broadway glow, complement store windows, and give the police car down the street a better view of what photographers and others are up to in the middle of the night, even when the snow is falling. See story below. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas
No TIGER grant
Mayor urges continued effort for port development
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Borough did not receive any TIGER grant funds for port development in the first big wave of federal stimulus transportation projects. In fact, only one Alaska project received funding - $3.6 million to complete work on a loading ramp facility at Auke Bay in Juneau.
The list of projects was released in an announcement on Feb. 17. Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants were awarded to 51 of the 1,400 applicants. About $57 billion in projects were sought and about $1.5 billion were funded.
The Skagway Gateway Project totaled $117 million in four phases that could be funded separately. The focus was on improvements to the ore terminal and dock, with expansion for an intermodal barge facility. The borough partnered with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), the owner of the terminal, in the application.
In its announcement, the U.S. Department of Transportation stated that the 51 projects it funded were considered “high priority, innovative transportation projects across the country.” Juneau’s project was at the low end of the funding level; some rail-projects in the Midwest were in the $30-35 million range. All total, 11 rail-related projects across the nation represented more than half of the funding.
Skagway still has a chance at some funding. Another $600 million has been made available for a second TIGER phase in the 2010 federal budget.
At the Feb. 16 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Mayor Tom Cochran said the news came as “no surprise,” given the low number of projects that were funded, but he urged the community to “keep driving to that vision” of the gateway project.
The mayor was meeting this Thursday with representatives of the Yukon government and AIDEA.
“It would have been nice to get federal funding,” he said, but noted that the focus of the meeting will be on public/private partnerships and the possibility of a joint venture with the Yukon.
It’s unclear whether that will include a revised application for federal funds.
Paul Taylor, a local consultant who was involved in writing the first draft of the TIGER grant application, wrote in an e-mail to the mayor that Skagway may still have a “fair chance” for funding with a “tighter, reconstituted application. The landscape changed considerably since September, now that a large, anchor tenant wants to ‘charge down the pass.’”
That possible tenant is Selwyn Resources. If its zinc-lead mine is developed in eastern Yukon and ships concentrates to Skagway, it could give the ore terminal business for 30 years. The anticipated volumes even have the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad looking at a possible ore haul, according to a recent article in the Tacoma News Tribune about the WP&YR’s engine modernization program with that city’s Global Locomotive.
WP&YR President Gary Danielson was traveling this week to a board meeting in Toronto and said in an e-mail that he would have a comment about the TIGER grant outcome and the railroad’s interests after he returns March 8.
In his e-mail, Taylor noted that rail projects received priority in the TIGER program.
But there were other priorities listed by USDOT.
On its Website, it stated, “USDOT considered benefits to safety, economic impact, livability, sustainability, and state of good repair in evaluating the projects. Priority was given to projects with strong local matches where the TIGER grant completed the funding for a project with independent utility. USDOT has defined ‘independent utility’ as a project that had benefits without waiting for later (unfunded) sections of segments to be completed.”
In its press release, USDOT said each of the projects funded had a ”significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region and contributes to national efforts to create jobs and business activity.”
It spelled out the criteria even more:
1. Long-Term Outcomes
a. State of Good Repair: Improving the condition of existing transportation facilities and systems, with particular emphasis on projects that minimize life- cycle costs.
b. Economic Competitiveness: Contributing to the economic competitiveness of the United States over the medium- to long-term.
c. Livability: Improving the quality of living and working environments and the experience for people in communities across the United States. d. Sustainability: Improving energy efficiency, reducing dependence on foreign oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefitting the environment.
e. Safety: Improving the safety of U.S. transportation facilities and systems.
2/3. Innovation, Job Creation & Economic Stimulus
Quickly creating and preserving jobs and stimulating rapid increases in economic activity, particularly jobs and activity that benefit economically distressed areas.
Using innovative strategies to pursue the long-term outcomes outlined above.
Demonstrating strong collaboration among a broad range of participants and/or integration of transportation with other public service efforts.
Noting the funding issues that the school is facing and responding to a call to action in a lengthy letter by local resident Mavis Irene Henricksen, the mayor said the lack of a diverse, year-round economy is why enrollment is down at the school, but he saw no public outcry or need to diverge from the course they were on.
“We are in a downturn now, but I would say that our efforts (with) port development is key,” he said. “It’s the right path to follow.”
Henricksen had called for not funding the Skagway Development Corp. and breaking the tidelands lease with White Pass. Henricksen had written the letter to school parents urging them to attend the Feb. 18 meeting. It upset at least one parent who fired back anonymously, disputing the facts in her letter, and defended the SDC and White Pass. The Feb. 18 meeting was lightly attended, possibly because it was Senior Night for the basketball teams.
It has been noted at the assembly table that SDC was instrumental in completing the TIGER application, and public-private partnerships are necessary to proceed with port development and diversifying the economy. But they took her suggestion to become more active in regional economic development issues with the Southeast Conference.
Assembly backs HEW plan for medevac mailer
Hisman plans to seek money in budget for fund
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Borough Assembly on Feb. 18 had no objection to a recommendation from the Health, Education and Welfare Committee to include an application form for the Apollo MT Medevac Insurance in an annual mailing to residents.
Committee chair Colette Hisman told fellow assembly members that awareness of the high medevac costs without insurance last summer and fall had prompted many in the community to already purchased the insurance, but the committee felt it should continue to get the word out to residents.
Hisman then stated that it was her personal belief that if one of the clubs in town started a fund “for those who cannot afford (the medevac insurance), I would put forth that the city, in our budget, contribute to that fund.”
A Skagway Medevac Fund was first proposed in November with support from the Eagles club. Originally, it would have been set up to raise about $32,000 to cover every resident in town, including a 10 percent discount offered by Apollo MT. About $14,000 in pledges were gathered, and the municipality was asked to kick in $10,000.
While there was support for the fund at a town meeting in January, there was some objection at the HEW meeting to a municipal contribution, since most residents are able to afford the $100 a year for a family medevac policy. There also was a concern that clubs could not sustain their initial contribution pledges year after year.
SMF co-founder Simon Claydon missed the HEW meeting but was at the assembly meeting. He and local resident/EMT Mark Larsen encouraged the borough to participate in the fund “to make it a reality.”
Both said there could be savings for residents on their normal health care coverages if everyone were covered.
“Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea,” Claydone said. “It’s not about socialized medicine, it’s about access to health care.”
“It’s a good idea economically,” Larsen added. “It could save money in the long run.”
He said Skagway could determine eligibility requirements and could be pro-active in setting the standard for other communities in the state. “It’s something we shouldn’t pass up. Please give it deep thought.”
But Assembly member Tim Cochran and Mayor Tom Cochran said the clubs could not support $5,000 contributions to the fund every year, but appeared willing to help families who could not afford the insurance.
Assembly member Dave Hunz said he wanted to explore in the upcoming budget cycle if there would be a cost savings of having municipal employees in the program.
Paul Reichert said the HEW Committee stressed the need right now for education about the options available for residents, so they can get the medevac insurance and not be saddled with a $25,000 air ambulance ride to Juneau. He recommended a cover letter to go out with both the Apollo MT form for medevacs and the Skagway Fire Department fund for local ambulance services.
The assembly had no objection to sending out the forms with a cover letter.
“This is a good start,” the mayor said. “There’s a whole lot of awareness now, and it has grown.”
Lack of students makes for hard choices ahead at Skagway School
By ANDREW CREMATA
A grim outlook for future student enrollment at the Skagway School set the tone at a town hall style meeting on Feb. 11, and left attendees reeling for solutions to budgetary shortfall issues.
Superintendent Les McCormick presented the 26 in attendance, which included school board members, borough officials, concerned parents, and a handful of teachers, with a Power Point presentation outlining budgetary concerns. The first slide featured the image of a cartoon dog slowly starving to death in a series of side-by-side pictures. McCormick explained that the dog, which progressively became sadder and thinner, represented the school’s finances in a nutshell. McCormick continued, “I’m going to go slowly and walk you through.”
He went on to show how the school’s budget was funded: 68 percent from the borough, 30 percent from the state, and two percent from the federal government. Expenditures were also broken down, with salaries encompassing 48 percent of the budget, benefits 23 percent, and the other 29 percent going to non-personnel related expenses. These expenditures were all funded by the foundation formula and cap set by the State of Alaska pertaining to overall student count.
McCormick said the borough was also funding six programs outside of the state’s foundation funding at a cost of $439,195.
The next item in the presentation was a bar graph detailing student enrollment over the years. The graph showed 137 students in 2001, and 72 projected for 2011. McCormick pointed out that the school had lost almost 50 percent of the student body in 10 years.
“I’m not going to be overly optimistic,” he said, concerning his projected enrollment of 72, adding that “fudging the numbers” would not result in more money from the state.
“Our revenue source is every one of these (student) bodies that is gone,” he said. He went on to show how, because of the drop in students, the state’s funding was declining and the borough has been picking up the bill.
McCormick said next year’s school budget would be in the red, even with a freeze on everything budget-related from the 2010 school year.
He said there were no guarantees of money coming from the borough, as the municipality was also experiencing declining revenues.
McCormick showed a graph of the school budget over the years. One of the more startling items on the graph was an increase from $1.8 million in 2007 to $2.4 million in 2008; an increase of $566,592 or 31 percent of the overall 2007 budget.
McCormick said the previous school administration should have made adjustments in the budget when they saw enrollment numbers dropping.
“Things should have been done,” he said. “I truly believe they were unaware. You can’t get by on rainbows forever.”
McCormick added the school was facing some “hard choices,” and “they’re not going to come easy.”
High school math teacher Dottie Demark was joined by a few parents questioning the increase of over a half million dollars in the operating fund between 2007 and 2008.
“Do we know where that went?” said Demark. “Why did it jump half a million dollars?”
McCormick deferred to school business manager Kathy Pierce, who said she would have to go back and look at her records to be sure of what the money went to specifically.
It turns out the numbers on the graph for the 2008 budget presented at the meeting were not indicative of actual expenditures made by the school. Pierce said later that $324,000 of the budget increase was for teachers’ retirement (TRS) and was paid for by the state. Pierce explained the state required the school to include the item in their own budget under the heading “On Behalf Relief.”
Pierce added that of the other $242,592 in operating fund increases between 2007 and 2008, $118,000 went to teachers’ salaries and the rest to items such as construction costs, teaching supplies, and books.
Teacher Denise Caposey asked if federal grant money was reflected in the data presented. McCormick said that since they were not rollover grants they had not been reflected.
“(Former Superintendant) Dr. Dickens’ grants were great grants and did great things,” said McCormick, who added that when the grants went away they couldn’t come back.
McCormick was asked if recommendations had been made to the school board on how he thought best to deal with the budget crisis. McCormick said he had offered his recommendations but was not willing to share them at the meeting.
Skagway Teachers Organization President Vivian Meyer asked McCormick if he were going to work with teachers who were afraid that they could lose their jobs. She also asked if there was a timeline so teachers potentially affected by “hard choices” could start looking for new jobs.
“When is this all going to shake out?” asked Meyer.
McCormick said the meeting was a presentation, but work sessions were being planned.
“Many of them,” said School Board President Christine Ellis. “We’ve been exploring and dissecting.”
Mayor Tom Cochran said the borough would continue to fund to the local cap allowed by the state, but that the monies outside of that cap could be a concern.
Someone chimed in from the audience asking, if the cap was being funded by the borough, why was there any problem to begin with.
McCormick answered, “Skagway, as we know it, will not be the same next year. It can’t be. We can’t afford it to be.”
Caposey asked that the uniqueness of Skagway be considered when making decisions regarding its future.
Former assemblyman Mike Korsmo urged for the borough to find other ways to fund the school. “We don’t want to cut it back so much that people don’t want to bring their kids,” he said.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran asked if the school could include home-schooled children in their count numbers.
McCormick said that various home school programs were all “under a microscope by the state, raking in millions of dollars with nothing to show for it.” He said until the issue was resolved it was unlikely local home-schooled children could be included in the count.
Parent Karl Klupar said instead of looking at the issue as a “glass half empty” situation, to look at it as “glass half full.” Klupar said there were lots of children who would soon be starting school in Skagway.
“We should be thinking about the character of the community, and how to keep the kids here,” said Klupar. “We have a great school here and this is just a bump in the road. I would hate to just slash and burn.”
Painting the town LED
By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
Darren Belisle, AP&T lead lineman, said the light for this idea came out of Haines.
So Alaska Power & Telephone tried switching out a couple of Skagway’s metal halide streetlights with energy-saving, light-emitting diode streetlights or LEDs.
“Haines actually started looking at them and the manager got a hold of me and so we tried two to see how they looked like,” he said.
It’s a more direct downward light, he said, than the old metal halide globe lights that spread illumination in all directions.
Liking what they saw, AP&T approached the Municipality of Skagway to try out more. That process has taken a year, Belisle said, because it had to be included in this year’s budget.
With $6,000 in borough funding, six more LEDs were recently installed, making a total of 10 that now run from Second Avenue to the alley past Seventh Avenue.
Stan Selmer, AP&T regional manager, encourages townspeople to go and see Broadway lit up with the new LED streetlights, saying that even without any cars on the street at night at this time of year, it looks beautiful when lit up.
But aside from the aesthetics, the move to LEDs spells out savings.
A halide bulb uses 919,800 watts per year – a LED, 332,800 watts. The dollar savings in using the LED is $129 a year per light, and it takes approximately three years to justify the $675 cost of the LED.
And because LEDs last longer than the old light – Belisle said 10 times longer – there is no need to change them as often and that saves the borough money. AP&T has a contract with the city to maintain the lights.
If the city were to replace the remaining 100 lights in the town proper, it would realize a savings of $22,914 based on annual maintenance and energy charges. That combined with the 10 already installed ups it to $25,205
While the greening of Broadway will save the borough some green, it will cause AP&T to lose revenue.
“Because of the power sales, we’re losing money as far as going green,” Belisle said. “But it’s basically the taxpayers that end up paying for it so it’s coming out of all of our pockets.”
Skagway’s low temperatures are a plus for the life of an LED.
“I found out that LEDs love our cold climate so they actually last longer,” he said.
Tom Smith, Skagway Borough manager, agreed that the LEDs makes fiscal sense.
“I think what we’re going to do is look at the information Darren provided us and go through the next budget cycle,” Smith said.
During this interview, Smith was in the middle of applying to the state’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for several borough capital improvement projects: the clinic, wastewater plant and port projects.
“The legislature is in session and they have a Web site we could pass requests to,” Smith said. “And there could be some federal stimulus money we could keep our eyes open for.”
The borough comes out ahead on this project and AP&T will see less revenue from reduced energy usage and maintenance.
This did not escape Selmer, a former Skagway mayor, who declared that the move to LEDs proves that AP&T isn’t always looking to charge more.
Whitehorse woman dies in snow machine accident on summit
By JASON UNRAU
A 32-year-old Whitehorse woman is dead following a snowmobile accident Sunday one kilometer west of the Fraser, B.C. customs station.
According to RCMP in Carcross who responded to the scene, the woman was driving a two-seater snow machine with a passenger on the back when the vehicle came to an abrupt halt after dropping several feet.
“She remained on (the vehicle) but may have come forward and struck the steering mechanism,” Whitehorse RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers told the Star.
“She crested a hill and came down on what’s being described as a drop of about two or three feet.”
The passenger was uninjured.
Police are not releasing the victim’s name until the coronor’s report on the fatal injury has been released.
“The injury is to be determined by the B.C. coronor’s service ... there’s a cross-jurisdictional component here,” Rogers said. “The accident happened in Atlin’s policing area but Carcross RCMP were the first responders.”
Other snowmobilers riding with the victim went to Canadian customs, and border service staff alerted the Carcross RCMP.
Driver inexperience may have contributed to the fatal mishap, police said. Alcohol is not believed to be a factor.
The Star learned Tuesday that the victim was an employee of McDonald’s restaurant, which confirmed that it closed Monday out of respect to her.
Big Dolly Greeting for Hans
Yukon Quest winner Hans Gatt of Whitehorse recieved a surprise greeting from “Dawson Dolly” of Skagway at the finish line on Feb. 15. The warm temperatures resulted in record times for four-time winner Gatt, runner-up Lance Mackey, and third place finisher Hugh Neff. Dolly, aka Cindy Godbey, was there to greet them all. See more photos in our print edition. Photo by Will Godbey
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Keep MHT land in state, muni. or private hands
The Skagway Borough Assembly was back at full strength Feb. 18 and approved the wording of a letter objecting to a proposed land swap of 357 acres of land just north of the city from the state Mental Health Trust to the U.S. Forest Service.
“It is the opinion of the assembly that there is already more than enough land within our borough boundaries designated as federal land,” it stated. “The municipality is responsible for any response, be it police, fire, search and rescue, etc. We have no federal presence here except for the National Park Service. PILT (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) payments have steadily declined over the years and we believe the land in question is best retained by the State of Alaska, if not the Skagway Borough.”
At the suggestion of member Dave Hunz, the assembly then added “or at the very least make it available to the private sector.”
Skate Park bid award
The municipality finally has united behind a proposal to complete the Skate Park elements for the new concrete pad by the Skagway Recreation Center.
The project was split up last summer after concerns were raised about the original set of proposals. And after going back to the drawing board, the Recreation Board ultimately looked at a series of new proposals. They entailed options from Excerplay, Inc. and American Ramp Co.
After interviewing representatives from both companies in January, the board recommended the $150,000 Pro Series option from American Ramp Co. with a written understanding from the company that they will include sound treatment material and signage for the park at no additional cost.
Parks and Recreation chair Paul Reichert said the proposal from ARC will result in a great skate park.
“It’s the best option for our community, the best bang for our buck and minimal maintenance,” he said.
Fire Chief rec. ahead, Boat harbor RFP, Alaska ACT decision deferred
The Fire Chief Hiring Committee met last week and has recommended the Skagway Fire Department membership’s choice of Jeremy Simmons to be the new volunteer chief.
Simmons, the Skagway EMS Captain, recently won a “friendly runoff” election with interim chief Wayne Greenstreet. The recommendation will go before the assembly on March 4.
The assembly also will take up the question of whether to authorize an RFP for engineering services for the Small Boat Harbor. The matter was tabled at the Feb. 18 meeting after Ed Fairbanks, the chair of the Ports and Harbors Advistory Board wrote that the board wanted to explore the “idea of a boat harbor in Long Bay…. We should not proceed at all until we know what we want.” Fellow P&H member Mavis Irene Henricksen said there is a concern about the price tag of Small Boat Harbor expansion.
Mayor Cochran said he is investigating whether to join AlaskaACT, the new group formed to lure cruise ships back to Alaska, and asked to have it on the March 4 agenda. At a previous meeting, Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said the CVB was having reservations after hearing a speech by Steve Hites on the group’s website which allegedly twisted some comments by the mayor. The speech was recently removed, the mayor said, and Donahue added later that another speech was on the site now, and Hites’ comments were in line with the municipality’s ongoing support for the cruise industry. “It doesn’t slam Skagway and Steve hits all the points accurately,” Donahue said.
009-2010 DEBATE, DRAMA & FORENSICS TEAM – From left, Alexis Grieser, coach Teagan Baldwin, Brandy Mayo.
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
DDF team ready for State
Skagway’s two full-time members of the Debate, Drama and Forensics team qualified for State Tournament and will represent Skagway next week in Anchorage.
In their final competition of the regular season, against a crowded field of Southeast participants in Juneau Feb. 12-13, Brandy Mayo turned in a third place performance in expository speaking and Alexis Grieser finished fourth in oration.
Coach Teagan Baldwin said they qualified in those areas for state. The ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 2010 State DDF Competition will be held at East Anchorage High School on March 4-6.
Results usually are posted the week after the competition at www.asaa.org. Click on the DDF link under Activities.