March 25, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 5
STATE CHAMPS AGAIN
Co-coach Lara Labesky and the SHS Lady Panthers starting five (Jesse Ellis, Kaylie O’Daniel, Kaitlyn Surdyk, Anna Korsmo, and Rori Leaverton) walk arm-in-arm off the court after winning their second straight ASAA 2A State Championship with a 34-23 win over Yakutat on March 16. Right, Ellis makes a Player of the Year jump-step move to the basket in the opening game against Tikigaq (Point Hope). Follow the team’s journey to back-to-back glory in our State Tourney Notebook II and link to more photos and our courtside blog on the SHS Basketball Page.
Photos by Cody Jennings
Bar Wars III
Revenge of the attorneys
By ANDREW CREMATA
While two local bar owners continue to clash over the desire of one to obtain a duplicate license from the state, there still remains uncertainty over whether a conditional use permit awarded by the municipality was legally approved.
In a letter to the municipality from Baxter, Bruce, and Sullivan the claim is made that the Board of Adjustment mishandled an appeal to a P&Z decision denying a conditional use permit to Beth Smith, owner of the Skagway Pizza Station and The Wood hotel.
Jan Wrentmore, owner of the Red Onion Saloon, has actively opposed the issuance of a duplicate liquor license for The Wood, and is the client who has retained the law firm.
The letter states that the BOA failed to follow municipal code by not actually voting to award a permit after overruling the original P&Z decision. It also claims that Assemblyman Dave Hunz showed bias in his decision and charged that Assemblyman Dan Henry did not recuse himself properly before the roll call was taken.
Municipal code states that an assembly member must seek recusal at the start of an assembly discussion.
In response to charges of improper recusal, Henry said he was unsure if he would recuse himself at the start of the meeting, but as the discussion developed he began to have doubts if he should indeed vote. Before roll call was taken he asked the municipal attorney’s representative, who was on conference call, whether he should take that action. Henry said her response was unclear and it motivated him to recuse himself even though discussion had already taken place.
At the March 17 borough assembly meeting the topic was addressed and Mayor Tom Cochran said municipal attorney Robert Blasco was reviewing the letter to supply a response. He added there could be some legitimacy to the points made in the letter, but until Blasco made an official comment it was impossible to know for sure.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said it was important the municipality avoid a lawsuit, and recommended the conditional use permit be suspended if Blasco’s findings were unfavorable.
Henry pointed out that almost every bar in Skagway is currently in need of obtaining a conditional permit due to the fact that a recently discovered section of 21-year-old municipal code requires it.
On March 1 letters were sent from the municipality to all bar owners in need of obtaining a permit, including Wrentmore. Businesses will have until October to comply, and will have to go through the Planning and Zoning Commission to obtain the permits – the same process that Smith went through after the relative portion of code was originally discovered.
Smith was scheduled to present her case for a duplicate liquor license to the Alaska Alcohol Beverage Control Board Thursday after this issue’s deadline. Smith said she was working under the assumption that her conditional use permit was valid, as she had not heard otherwise from the municipality.
Smith said there was confusion over the fact that her permit covers her entire premises; the city block that houses both the Pizza Station and The Wood (old Corner Café). The duplicate liquor license would allow alcohol to be sold at both buildings included in that premises, but Smith maintains she has no desire to operate the Station restaurant past 8 p.m.
Smith said even the municipality was confused by the fact her permit covered the entire block, because she received a letter informing her she needed to apply for a conditional use permit for the Pizza Station.
“Everyone thinks this permit was just for ‘The Wood,’ but it covers all of our property on the block,” she said.
Wrentmore said she plans on testifying against the duplicate liquor license on the ABC level.
“It sets a horrible precedent for Skagway and the state,” said Wrentmore who added that it could conceivably double the number of bars if everyone opens a new bar outside of their primary facility.
Smith said she disagrees with Wrentmore’s assertion because a duplicate liquor license can only be issued if a hotel is part of the establishment. Her Morning Wood hotel is above the current restaurant/bar.
The key issue facing ABC is the fact that their code allows for duplicate liquor licenses to be issued for a “premises,” which by definition includes outlying, separate buildings on a particular piece of property. ABC is also the ultimate authority when it comes to the issuance of liquor licenses, so while any protest from the municipality would be taken into consideration there is no guarantee it would have any effect on the board’s final decision.
No official protest to the license was authored by the municipality after a vote to object to the duplicate license request failed.
Wrentmore has maintained that her concerns are not based on the threat of competition.
“I think it all comes down to competition and greed,” said Smith. “I can’t see how anyone thinks this is a bad idea.”
Wrentmore said her objection to the duplicate liquor license stems from the prospect of setting a precedence that could lead to an oversaturation of bars in Skagway.
Currently, there are two public bars that operate year-round in Skagway, the Skagway Brew Co. and the Pizza Station. In the past, the two establishments have worked together to shut down at various times during the winter months resulting in only one bar being open for up to four months at a time.
ABC also has population-imposed limits on the number of bars that can operate within a given municipality.
Smith reiterated that her license was not for a new bar but was a duplicate license for an existing business that was non-transferrable and held no monetary value.
On Monday, Mayor Cochran said the municipality received a prepared letter from Wrentmore, and addressed to Smith, that she wanted signed by municipal officials. The letter reiterated points made in her attorney’s letter stating that the conditional use permit was invalid and was officially revoked.
Mayor Cochran said the municipality refused to sign the letter, and that if Wrentmore wanted to seek recourse through Alaska’s Superior Court that was within her rights. He added that Blasco was reviewing tapes from the BOA meeting and would eventually come to a determination if the permit was indeed valid, so as to offer a response to allegations made by Wrentmore’s attorney.
The day after the meeting, Blasco said the action of the BOA to overturn the P&Z decision resulted in the conditional use permit being issued. Mayor Cochran said that proper procedure was followed and that the intent of the BOA to issue the permit was apparent.
In his letter, Wrentmore’s attorney had threatened to seek recourse through the courts, resulting in “substantial attorney’s fees and costs defending an indefensible position.”
A lot will now hinge on what the ABC board does with the duplicate license application.
Fine tuning the noise ordinance
By ANDREW CREMATA
Skagway’s new noise ordinance could soon go into effect, providing recourse to those who are bothered by animal noise or things that continuously go bump in the night. A resolution to impose penalties will accompany the ordinance, but there is some debate over whether some elements are too severe.
At the March 14 Public Safety Committee meeting, both the new noise Ordinance 11-07 and the draft resolution imposing penalties were discussed.
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said he took some time to do some field-testing of his own to see if the allowable decibels contained in the ordinance were appropriate for Skagway.
Reichert explained that he took decibel reading adjacent to neighboring properties of the Skagway Brew Co. during a recent night when there was live music. While he thought noise levels sounded very low to his ears, the decibel meter read in the low 60s, which would have put the Brew Co. in violation of the ordinance as written.
“If they’re coming in over 60 (decibels), it’s not going to work,” said Reichert.
Reichert then suggested raising the limits within the commercial and residential districts by ten decibels, which would make the limit in the residential zone 70 decibels between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran agreed that the limits were too low, and that raising the limits by ten decibels would be an acceptable starting point.
A normal conversation registers approximately 60 on a decibel meter, with 70 being equitable with general street noise.
Elaine Furbish, who lives on Alaska Street near some summer housing, said there were frequent summer parties where the sound of heavy bass was often an issue.
Police Chief Ray Leggett said that while bass sounds were non-enforceable, the ordinance would provide recourse for those being bothered by loud music that violated the decibel limit.
“Frankly, I just wish people would come talk to their neighbors,” said Furbish.
Leggett agreed, and said it would be better for everyone if people worked it out for themselves.
Reichert said many noise problems were caused by the fact that some people in residential zones are adjacent to businesses that are within the commercial zone.
A resolution proposed by Leggett creates a penalty structure, enforceable to residences and businesses who fail to comply with the ordinance. The first offense would result in a warning. The second, third, and fourth offenses would result in fines of $100, $200 and $300 respectively. Subsequent offenses by a residence would result in more $300 fines, the most allowed in municipal code. A fifth offense by a business would result in suspension of their business license for three consecutive days. Penalties would accrue within one calendar year.
Reichert said he was opposed to penalizing residential violators differently than commercial, but Leggett said for the penalties to be effective they had to remain separate.
Leggett explained that businesses make money and a successful business could simply choose to ignore the ordinance and repeatedly pay the $300 fine as “part of doing business.” He added that the $300 fine would be far more significant to a homeowner who is not earning profits on a daily basis.
Leggett said the penalties needed to be severe enough to have an effect on a repeat offender.
“If they have been told four times, at five they obviously don’t care,” said Leggett. “It’s not a sneak attack… If I don’t have to tell my six-year-old that many times, I shouldn’t have to tell an adult.”
Leggett said that what would result in compliance is an appropriate level of discipline.
Cochran agreed and said he had personal experience with seasonal occupants at certain residences hosting parties every night.
Reichert said the thought of revoking business licenses didn’t “sit well” with him, and he would consider alternatives before the second reading of the ordinance.
The first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously at the March 17 assembly meeting. Public hearing and second reading of the ordinance, and the resolution imposing penalties, will be addressed at the next regular meeting on April 7.
Western Copper takes a look at the Skagway port
By JEFF BRADY
Another potential large Yukon mining operation is looking seriously at the Skagway port.
Western Copper Corporation’s vice president of engineering, Cameron Brown, met with the Skagway Port Commission earlier this month. He said they were working on two properties, a $150 million project near Carmacks, Yukon that is waiting for a water license (its first attempt was denied), and the larger Casino copper-gold project further west that is a low-grade but has a large reserve or 1-3.6 billion metric tons.
The Casino project is in the middle of a pre-feasibility study that should be completed in early April so they can proceed with test work at the site. Then there would be a bankability feasibility study over the next two years, he said.
Challenges facing the mine include getting fuel to the site to power the machinery. The company is hoping to tap into the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline, if it goes, with an 8-inch spur line to the site. An interim option would be liquid natural gas (LNG), and there was talk of barging the fuel to Skagway for shipment north. However, its volatility would necessitate a floating jetty away from other port operations, possibly at the south end of the ore terminal property or at the south end of the Railroad Dock. The LNG would then be transported to the mine, and converted to natural gas there.
Brown said an optimistic schedule has the mine producing in 2018-19 and the natural gas pipeline going in during 2020-21. There also is potential for LNG from a British Columbia source.
They plan to export 450,000 tons of concentrate per year, and there would be about 25 truckloads per day. They also would need a new building at the ore terminal that would be “substantially higher” than the existing shed. It would be about 100 feet tall, so they can make “big piles.”
Casino would ship about 150,000 tons a year more than the proposed Selwyn mine. He said that if both projects start producing at the same time, then there will be a need for a new ship loader and a big upgrade at the terminal. He also said conflicts with cruise ships in the summer would need to be resolved.
He said there could be a facility to serve everyone’s needs that would bring a lot of business and year-round jobs.
“You’ve got a great facility here and you’ve got a lot of potential,” Brown said. “The community seems to have embraced development.”
Tidelands lease lull: new letter on ‘site control’ sent to White Pass
Not much has happened on the tidelands lease front in the past two weeks.
A special assembly meeting scheduled for March 14 to review a revised lease proposal to send to White Pass was cancelled. Since then, the borough’s negotiating team met to draft a second letter to the company about the need for municipal site control at the Ore Dock.
That latest letter was reviewed by the borough assembly in executive session Wednesday night after this issue’s deadline.
On Tuesday, Mayor Tom Cochran said site control is the focus because of looming deadlines with the Alaska Legislature. He wants to see an addendum to the existing lease White Pass has until 2023. The borough wants site control over 3.44 acres of the “bulkhead dock lease” that is slated to receive $10 million in port improvements in the governor’s budget.
“If we don’t get site control from them for that portion, there’s a good chance we will not receive that appropriation,” Cochran said.
White Pass’s first response to an initial letter about site control said it wanted the issue tied to “execution of a new tidelands lease.”
Cochran said there have been no updates by the municipal attorney to a draft lease, and there’s nothing new for the public to review.
“Because of site control, the lease is on hold for the time being,” he said.
The House Finance Committee will be discussing the governor’s budget request in early April, the mayor said. – JB
STILL HOWLING AFTER 25 YEARS – Jean Worley poses with BSC founder Buckwheat Donahue and one of the 25th anniversary quilts that she crafted in 30 days. Photo by Andrew Cremata
Jean Worley given President’s Gold Award for volunteerism
Skagway Customs and Border Protection Officer Jean Worley has been named a CBP Gold Award recipient of the 2010 President’s Volunteer Service Awards for her 30-plus years of volunteer service to her community and school.
Since 1978 Jean Worley has made the Fourth of July parade lead banner, the judges’ ribbons, every championship banner won by Skagway School in both athletics and academics, and all the award ribbons in the annual Buckwheat Ski Classic cross-country ski race for the past 25 years. She also recently completed a series of quilts made from past BSC t-shirts for the race’s silver anniversary.
Another project of Worley’s is the annual American Legion Auxiliary doll. Worley makes a replica of a wedding gown worn by a Skagway bride during that year. The doll is raffled off and approximately $2,000 is donated annually to the Legion to be given to a graduating senior at Skagway High in the form of a college scholarship. Everything is handmade and all materials are donated by Worley. She is also a past winner of the local Helen B. Clark award.
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
More questions about school budget
The Borough Assembly and School Board met in a joint work session Wednesday night after this issue’s deadline to go over the school budget, but there was a warm-up to the session at last week’s Finance Committee meeting.
The district is asking for cap funding of $1,255,091 and an additional $482,708 for programs outside the operating fund. Those programs include: $155,000 for extracurricular activities, $79,852 for food service, $3,686 for pre-school, $144,443 for vocational education (technology), $90,000 for technology improvement, and $9,727 for music.
During public comment, Candace Wallace raised a concern about program funds that are not being spent. She said that when the wrestling program was cancelled, the money should have gone back to the municipality.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz echoed this concern later in the meeting.
“They shift a lot of money around,” he said, adding that he wanted to see the money spent on the line items “or the money comes back to us.”
Assemblywoman Colette Hisman said she had attended school budget meetings and was surprised at the totals because they did not reflect some of the recommendations given. There were also concerns about the cost of food service increasing while the student population is shrinking, and the high cost of benefits compared to salaries.
Superintendent Jefferie Thielbar, who participated via teleconference from State Tourney in Anchorage, said the benefit costs jumped because of a 20 percent increase in health costs.
Addressing questions about what the municipality receives, he said “every item is open” in monthly reports provided to the city. They recently gave the borough another 50 pages of documents.
In regard to the technology costs, he said computers were starting to fail after five years and new ones were needed.
“I wish I could give you a better budget but I can’t,” Thielbar said, adding that cuts could be made, but not without affecting “the level of education that we need.”
He said sometimes money has to be moved around because things happen, such as the rise in fuel costs. The elected school board does approve amended budgets, he noted.
Watch for any updates from the joint meeting on the News website. If any changes in the school budget are required, the board could take them up at its March 29 regular meeting. – AC & JB
A lone swan, apparently ruffled a bit by the north wind, rests among the reeds at the mouth of the Skagway River last weekend before journeying north to catch up with buddies in the Yukon. Jeff Brady
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Tax on tax gets the axe
First reading of Ordinance 11-08 passed at the March 17 borough assembly meeting clarifying the definition of “sale price,” “price,” and “gross revenue” in Skagway sales tax code. A line added to the pertinent section of code states that federal and state fuel taxes shall not be included in the calculation of those three terms.
Mayor Tom Cochran said that the new code prevents fuel users from being double-taxed by the municipality on taxes assessed by the state and the federal government.
Cochran said the result would be a minor savings for fuel users and an annual decrease of approximately $2,000 in municipal revenue. – AC
Appeal goes to the dogs
The assembly, acting as the Board of Adjustment, heard an appeal concerning the issuing of a conditional use permit to Tom Hall of Klondike Gold Dredge for a dog sled demonstration tour at his facility. The appeal was filed by Robert Murphy, owner of Alaska Excursions, who recently obtained his own conditional use permit for a similar business just south and across from the dredge’s location on the Klondike Highway.
Murphy claimed that Hall operated illegally in 2010, due to the fact he had not obtained the proper permits, and asked that the BOA impose fines for failure to comply with municipal code.
Murphy also asked that a provision be placed on the conditional use permit requiring any and all noise complaints due to barking dogs would be first addressed to Hall’s operation.
Murphy was not present at the BOA meeting, and said later it was because he was confused about when it started.
“We have no appellant,” said Mayor Cochran, and after a short discussion the BOA decided to proceed without Murphy’s attendance.
Assemblywoman Colette Hisman said she could find no instance when Hall had been warned about being in violation, or issued a citation.
Mayor Cochran said that the permitting officer met with Hall personally to work with him on the necessary permits, but no warnings were ever issued.
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said that noise issues should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and not with a hierarchy of who is first, second and third.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran agreed and said that those complaining about dog noise would know the location where the noise was coming from.
Mayor Cochran said he felt it was “a little punitive” to assess fines on something the municipality was unaware of, and since no complaints were ever filed.
The appeal failed unanimously with Assemblyman Dan Henry absent and Hunz abstaining due to conflict of interest. He owns the land where the dredge sits.
Retired Assistant Fire Chief Ken Nalan, left, is presented a gift from Deputy Chief Wayne Greenstreet and Fire Chief Jeremy Simmons at the SVFD’s annual awards dinner hosted by the municipality. JB
Sr. Center new lease on life
Ginny Cochran addressed the assembly to thank them “profusely” for the use of the Little Dippers as a senior center during the winter months. She explained that a total of 602 people signed in during those months, an average of six a day.
Cochran read a list of people to thank for the hard work they put into making the facility a better place. She saved special praise for Tim Salter, who she said donated items to the building including a Nintendo Wii, and went out of his way to help in whatever way he could.
“Skagway is lucky to have him,” she said.
The assembly unanimously decided to allow seniors use of the building next winter.
A resolution brought forward by Assemblyman Mike Korsmo addressed concerns about Skagway becoming integrated with a Juneau legislative district after reapportionment.
According to Korsmo, results from the 2010 census showed a 17 percent decrease in Southeast residents, which will most likely result in one less legislative representative for the area. It is possible that Skagway’s House District 5 representative will be the one lost, and Korsmo said that when redistricting takes place in the next 30 days it could result in Skagway and Haines being combined with North Juneau.
Mayor Cochran explained that if Skagway were to be “lumped in” with Juneau, the bigger city would have 85 percent of the district vote, resulting in a lack of local representation for Skagway.
The resolution calls on the state redistricting board to maintain Skagway in a house district that is in “a relatively integrated socio-economic area” and not part of Juneau.
Korsmo said it was important Skagway keep its rural format as it would make it easier to “get things done and not become part of Big Brother.”
The municipality is also working on a joint resolution with the Haines Borough.
Lease is first step for harbor
The assembly approved entering into a lease agreement with Taiya Marine Services for the use of a portion of land by the Small Boat Harbor.
The lease amount is $2,640 annually and the municipality will add an electric pole to the property with 30 amp. metered service.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said the agreement is “a long term investment for us,” and that it could create a small cottage industry.
Hunz said the harbor committee was in full agreement to approve the lease and he was hopeful that it would be the first step in port growth. – AC