March 26, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 5
LADY PANTHERS STATE CHAMPS
The Lady Panthers and close to 200 Skagway fans celebrate as the clock ticks down to zero and the school’s first state basketball championship after a convincing victory over Ninilchik. See extensive coverage and more photos in our print edition, on newsstands now. See extensive coverage in Sports & Rec. and on our SHS Basketball Page.
Photo by Cody Jennings
Skagway finishes 29-0
Lady Panthers team adds song to the dance for school's first state basketball title
By JEFF BRADY
ANCHORAGE – This time, on the biggest stage in the biggest state, the Lady Panthers added lyrics to the championship dance.
“We’re the 12 Best Friends that Anyone Could Have,” the team members sang, gathered in a circle for a statewide TV audience.
Junior forward Kaitlyn Surdyk said they picked it up after watching the movie, “The Hangover.”
They sang, they swayed, they gathered up the hardware, and they cut down the nets. No tears like after winning the Southeast region – just pure satisfaction in knowing they were indeed the best team in the Great Land.
About 200 Skagway fans stood cheering wildly behind them in the Sullivan Arena, having witnessed, along with 2,000 others and that TV audience, probably the most dominating state championship performance by a girl’s basketball team in Alaska history.
The 67-29 win over perennial state title contender Ninilchik capped an undefeated season that started with beating 3A and 4A teams in Fairbanks in December. Except for a couple of challenges from Southeast rival Yakutat, and a battle in the state semifinal with Cook Inlet Academy, this run to the Skagway School’s first 2A state basketball championship was never in doubt.
After the championship game, the team gathered to get ready to file onto the floor for the awards. They held a fan banner: “Panthers on the Prowl.”
When asked how they felt, they collectively shouted, “Woot! Woot!”
And that’s how they have been all season, actually going back a season or two now. They have been a unit that enjoys hanging together, having fun and being successful – on the court, in the classroom (3.74 GPA, best in state), and outside of school – and they can keep this good thing going another year or two.
So, what makes this group so special? This was the first question the News asked co-coaches Lara Labesky and Mark Jennings after the nets were down.
“It seems like there is nothing they can’t do.” Jennings said. “I have never seen a team where all 12 get along so well.”
“They are very dedicated and really coachable,” Labesky added.
Jennings said the three juniors – Jesse Ellis, Kaylie O’Daniel, and Kaitlyn Surdyk – set examples for the younger kids, infusing the whole team.
“If I had to go to war with 12, it would be with them…” he said.
Labesky interjected, “We might not win the war, but they’d be dancing.”
They certainly know how to win the court battles. See our State Tourney Notebook in Sports & Rec.
LOVE A PARADE – The team rides into town on the historic SFD fire truck during a State Champions Parade after arriving on the March 24 ferry. Broadway was lined with fans like it was 4th of July. Andrew Cremata
Commission explores zoning for more affordable housing
Zoning for more employee congregates may free up more houses for locals
By ANDREW CREMATA
For years, housing has been one of the most talked about issues facing Skagway, but throughout that time the cost of housing has risen while availability has declined. Different ideas have been tossed around as a possible solution to the problem, but none have ever garnered any traction with local government or Skagway’s citizenry.
A new wave of potential solutions are being addressed that some believe could result in more affordable housing for year-round residents and seasonal workers alike.
A recent Planning and Zoning Commission work session drew a wide range of Skagway residents eager to share opinions on how best to address housing issues related to seasonal workers and year-round residents.
Chair Robert Murphy said the meeting was a chance to “brainstorm” around what Skagway residents have identified as a top issue facing the community. He added that the main purpose of the meeting was to look at zoning code and see how it might be altered or changed so as to benefit year-round residents or first-time home buyers.
“How do we do something about the housing issue?” said Murphy. “What will provide results and real change?”
Luke Rauscher recommended that some of the areas in town zoned Residential Low Density be changed to Residential General, thus offering more flexibility for people seeking to build congregate housing.
Congregate housing is defined in the code as six or more non related persons living within a dwelling.
Commissioner Matt Deach offered that zones which currently restrict congregate housing could be altered to allow it with a Conditional Use Permit. While more lenient, the change would still require those seeking to utilize land for congregate housing to seek out a permit for the use with P&Z.
Murphy said that in his opinion congregate housing was almost always used for seasonal staff. He said year-round residents were often their neighbors and had to deal with issues involving their summer-neighbors not taking care of the property they lived on.
Murphy said that often seasonal workers left their yards unkempt or turned the dwelling into a “party house with PBR boxes in the yard.” Murphy explained there were often complaints from locals about negligence or poor behavior and offered that the code should include rules for people wishing to establish or maintain congregate housing.
Shana Thomas agreed and said she agreed with Rauscher, that zoning should be relaxed in certain parts of town. She said that her family lived near some of the “messy people” that Murphy described and asked if there was a way the municipality could deal with sloppy tenants and their landlords.
Thomas also said she would like to put an RV on her property to rent, but current zoning prohibited such use.
Murphy said that a conditional use permit could be tied to property or owner, putting the onus on the landlord to ensure tenants remain responsible and civil.
Another topic of discussion dealt with the closing of Hanousek Park, and the potential sale of Garden City RV Park. Dennis Corrington said via teleconference that if the municipality were to purchase Garden City, as has been discussed, there would suddenly be 120 seasonal residents without a summer home.
“From a health and safety viewpoint (Hanousek Park) is a nightmare,” said Murphy, who added that the close proximity of tents and lack of oversight created a fire hazard and an eyesore.
Murphy said that a new zone could be created to address the issue to allow for “high density” dwellings, or dormitory style housing of up to 40 or 50 persons. Murphy said that instead of spending $550.00 for a tent site a month, dorm residents would get a hot shower and a roof over their head.
Murphy said it would make for a happier worker, and would alleviate pressure on the housing market. He said that many business owners currently own multiple homes in town to house their employees, but most would prefer the cheaper alternative of a dorm, and the reduced expense for upkeep and maintenance of one dwelling as opposed to many.
Murphy said that over time, more houses would become available on the market to year-round residents and first-time buyers, which would hopefully result in more affordable housing.
“This is an area I’d like to seriously explore,” said Murphy.
Commissioner Mike Healy said a similar plan has been used in “ski towns down south,” with positive results.
Healy explained that when looking for housing for his employees he seeks out the lowest priced houses he can find. “The same houses a family would be looking for,” he said.
Murphy asked what the obstacles to such a plan would be, and multiple responses dealt with the potential repercussion to having a large number of persons living in one place such as the dorm devolving into a “party house” atmosphere.
Murphy said those issues could be addressed with oversight and that the neighbors would ultimately be the best voices for keeping things in line. He said rules could be set but it would all come down to enforcement.
Charles Doland said that places with a party atmosphere already existed in Skagway. In reference to Hanousek Park, Doland said, “It’s already trailer trash. It’s pretty rough.”
Permitting Officer Emily Rauscher said the biggest obstacle would be that no one would want dormitory style housing in their own neighborhood.
Thomas said she already frequently dealt with intoxicated persons falling into her parked car on a regular basis, and suggested an on-site manager be required to oversee the goings-on in the dormitories.
Deach said that because so many people seem concerned about the impact of intoxicated residents on their neighborhoods, maybe the municipality should look at cracking down on local bars that over-serve their patrons.
Murphy said that issues such as alcohol on the premises and underage drinking could be addressed, and the biggest obstacle would be convincing residents to allow dormitory housing in their neighborhood.
Murphy said that any change to code would have to be fair, and asked where the best place for “high density” housing would be.
Deach said the best place would be on the north end of the town, out past the Pat Moore Bridge. He said that in that area tenants “can be as loud as they want.”
Rauscher said he liked the idea of incorporating a “high density” zone into code, but did not think it was a cure-all. He said he still believed that other portions of municipal code needed to be changed.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said that even if a number of homes were available on the market that there would not be cheaper houses because their appraisals were already high.
“I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” said Cochran.
Another work session addressing the housing issue is scheduled for March 31.
Board: No RIF necessary to balance budget
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway School Board emerged from an executive session on March 11 with an announcement that it had a balanced budget without a Reduction In Force.
The announcement confused some in the audience, who thought that meant the board had passed a balanced budget for next year in a closed session.
Board President Chris Ellis clarified the statement the next day.
“We announced that there would be no RIF – and that the budget was balanced,” she said. “It’s not that it is balanced, but by making adjustments, we could get there without doing a RIF. We will have budget meetings coming up and will try to get with the city to set up a meeting.”
As of this week, the school’s spring break, those budget work sessions had not been scheduled. Nothing could happen before the board’s next regular meeting on March 30.
“We need to have our work sessions for public input, and then meet with city, and there could be another with the public after we meet with them, before we pass a budget,” Ellis said.
At the special meeting on the 11th, the board accepted the resignations of Superintendent Michael Dickens (who will not return after a one-year leave to deal with health issues), interim Superintendent Les McCormick (who said he will not apply for a permanent position), and high school social studies teacher Josh Coughran.
Ellis said Cochran’s resignation, and some concessions by teachers in the recently negotiated agreement, made it possible for them to begin work on a budget that would balance without a RIF. She said they would not be refilling Coughran’s position at this time, and are working with a teacher-submitted plan on how to cover the teaching of social studies. But she added that they had also considered another RIF during the initial process.
But the new agreement with Skagway Teachers Organization helped them avoid a RIF, she noted. It is already signed and will be approved March 30. It includes no raises other than standard step increases and for educational improvement, and an increase in the deductible from $250 to $1500 in their health policy.
“That (increased deductible) saved a position,” Ellis said. “The negotiations went really well, considering everything.”
The district has been forced to come up with a balanced budget for 72 students next year, down nearly 20 students from this year.
Reduce the tax, see more ships
Skagway delegation involved in big Miami meetings
By JEFF BRADY
A delegation from Skagway was part of the Alaska ACT presentation at Cruise Shipping Miami (aka Seatrade) last week that was able to work with Governor Sean Parnell to try and lure some lost cruise ships back to Alaska.
At the end of the week, after attending a panel and meeting with cruise executives, the governor announced that he would propose a 25 percent reduction of the voter-passed head tax in 2006 from $46 to $34.50. The executives said they would move ships back to Alaska if it won legislative approval.
The governor is also encouraging a reduction with certain offsets for local head taxes – to eliminate the possibility of taxing tourists twice for the same Alaska destination, according to a press release.Additionally, the governor reiterated his support for corporate income tax credits to incentivize greater Alaska tourism marketing.
“We must make Alaska a more affordable destination to travelers from Outside,” Gov. Parnell said. “I made it clear to cruise ship executives that we would need public assurances about increased deployments and economic activity in Alaska in exchange for these tax reductions.”
Parnell is urging legislators to combine tourism marketing tax credit legislation with the proposal to reduce Alaska’s head tax.
According to the online magazine TravelPulse.com, the meeting took place after Holland America Line President and CEO Stein Kruse issued a stinging criticism of Alaska’s “punitive taxes” and “overzealous regulations” during the high-profile State of the Cruise Industry panel discussion at the convention. “We can and will redeploy our ships,” Kruse said, noting that Alaska is experiencing a 17 percent decline in cruise business this year after 30 years of growth. “The regulations in Alaska are more burdensome and more costly than anywhere else on earth. … I know these are strong words, but that’s the reality.”
Among the executives who met with Parnell were Kruse, Carnival Corp. Chairman and CEO Micky Arison, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan, Crystal Cruises President Gregg Michel, Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Dan Hanrahan and Charlie Ball, president of Princess Cruises and Holland America’s Alaska tour operations.
“That the governor took the time to come down is a very positive step,” Ball told TravelPulse.com, adding that Parnell is much more accessible to cruise executives than former Gov. Sarah Palin was. The summit was facilitated by the Alaska Cruise Association, formed by the cruise lines to lobby for change, and Alaska Alliance for Cruise Travel, which was formed by local businesspeople hurt by the decline in cruise tourism.
The Alaska ACT booth at Seatrade week in Miami. Michael Brandt
Representing Skagway were Steve Hites, a member of the Alaska ACT board, and White Pass representatives Michael Brandt, Eleanor Davenport, and Vickey Moy.
Brandt, WP&YR senior vice president of marketing/administration, said in an e-mail this week, that White Pass President Gary Danielson was a founding member of Alaska ACT and committed resources to the organization and the Miami booth. Clublink chair Rai Sahi, from the railroad ownership base in Toronto, also came down for the breakfast meeting hosted by the governor.
Brandt said that Hites and he designed the trade show booth (see photo), raising sponsorship and setting it up. Skagway Street Car, White Pass and Skagway CVB kicked in money and their logos are on the panels. Davenport and Moy worked the booth hosting cruise executives.
Hites also was a prominent speaker.
“Steve Hites was a key speaker on the Alaska Panel and he was the catalyst for Alaska ACT to have the cruise lines REQUEST that there be an Alaska Panel on the Cruise Shipping Miami agenda,” Brandt wrote. “He did a fabulous job (as always) and is a valuable spokesperson for Alaska ACT.”
Brandt concluded: “Skagway has a significant equity position in Alaska ACT and the successful Cruise Shipping Miami trade mission! Our delegates did Skagway proud!”
Hovercraft tour to start, legalities still up in the air
By ANDREW CREMATA
Hover North Tours will commence with operations this summer. They will offer the only hovercraft tour in Skagway, and provide tourists a chance to explore the wilds of the Skagway River. However, one potential obstacle looms over the new business’ first year of operation – it may not be entirely legal.
According to Hover North Tours owner Luke Rauscher he is within his legal rights to begin tour operations this spring, even without a conditional use permit the municipality has said is required to proceed as planned.
The part of the plan in question is whether Rauscher needs to apply for a conditional use permit to utilize the flats near the south end of the Skagway Airport as a temporary mooring for his hovercraft.
Rauscher explained via telephone that he will keep his tour vehicle in a slip at the small boat harbor, but would be loading and unloading passengers from some of his tours at the mouth of the Skagway River.
While the municipality has maintained that Rauscher requires a conditional use permit to load and unload passengers at the mouth of the Skagway River, Rauscher said he has no plans on following through with the application process.
“I will use the (river) flats because I can, and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Rauscher.
In a lengthy letter from his attorney to Mayor Tom Cochran and the municipality dated June 5 2009, Rauscher cited a section of municipal code which states, “The waterfront zoning district is intended for all property contiguous with the shoreline.”
The code also states that public, private, and commercial moorage is a permitted use for lands adjacent to the Taiya Inlet. After citing this section of code, the letter reads, “Mr. Rauscher neither needs to nor intends to apply for a Conditional Use Permit for his planned use.”
In response, a letter from Skagway Attorney Robert Blasco dated July 29, 2009 says, “The Municipality has made it clear to Mr. Rauscher… that he must apply for a conditional use permit. If he thinks he does not have to obtain a conditional use permit, he can address that in the administrative process.”
Blasco goes on to say that if Rauscher were to simply begin to offer hovercraft tours without a conditional use permit, the municipality would proceed with legal actions to enforce its code. The letter concludes by urging Rauscher to follow the guidelines of the administrative process.
Rauscher said he feels like the first time he went through the process of obtaining a conditional use permit, a request to utilize the Seven Pastures area for hovercraft moorage, he received “unreasonable and disparate treatment.”
Rauscher alleges the municipality erroneously denied his permit after it was granted by the Planning and Zoning Commission. He said the assembly mistakenly interpreted municipal code when, acting as a Board of Adjustment, denied his permit after a 3-2 vote in favor of approval. Rauscher said municipal code states a majority vote is all that is needed for approval when the assembly acts as a Board of Appeal.
Cochran responded to Rauscher via letter that stated when the assembly hears appeals from P&Z it is still the assembly, and a two-thirds majority vote would be needed to uphold the granting of the permit.
Rauscher also claimed the appeal, made by Tim Bourcy, was not filed within the required ten day period from the time of P&Z’s original decision. While the appeal was indeed filed 14 days later, the municipality maintained the 10 day requirement dealt only with “business days,” and that Bourcy’s appeal met that requirement.
Blasco said in his letter that none of Rauscher’s arguments concerning the Seven Pastures conditional use permit were valid due to the fact he chose not to appeal the Board of Adjustment’s decision.
“Mr. Rauscher did not appeal the decision. Therefore, the decision stands and he must abide by it. His disagreement with the Assembly does not mean the Assembly has treated him in an “unreasonable and disparate” manner,” said Blasco.
Rauscher said he is making preparations to begin tour operations this spring. He said he was currently making a few upgrades to the hovercraft which is now physically in Skagway.
Rauscher also applied for office space at the Skagway Airport with the Department of Transportation, but said he was denied use because aviation-oriented businesses receive priority, and there were two new businesses operating within the airport.
Rauscher said he will seek office space in a different location.
Lynne Cameron starts unpacking boxes during the big move into the Edward A. and Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center on March 18. Right, the old Dahl Memorial Clinic was empty by the end of the day. It served the community for 43 years. See more photos in our print edition. Dimitra Lavrakas
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Harbor RFP approved, questions about Long Bay boat harbor idea
“It’s just an idea, folks,” said Mayor Cochran concerning an idea proposed by the Ports and Harbors Advisory Board to seek a feasibility study for a new small boat harbor in Long Bay. He added that it was important to proceed with a Request for Proposals to move forward on phase 1B of the town harbor expansion project, which includes dredging and float replacement.
Mayor Cochran said that grant funding for the project was “coming together,” echoing comments made by former assembly member Mike Korsmo in a letter to the municipality in favor of moving forward with the RFP.
Some concerns about proposed harbor plans were brought forward at the meeting by Harbor Board Member Mark Saldi. He said the plan would result in fewer moorage slips and should be called, “The Boat Harbor Contraction.”
Saldi said the plan would result in the loss of uplands and the Pullen Creek RV Park, and that floats could be arranged better and in a simpler fashion that would benefit harbor users.
Mayor Cochran said he, too, was concerned about the loss of slips and that the engineer could work with the harbor board to make adjustments to the proposed plan.
“I don’t want to lose 40 or 50 slips,” said Mayor Cochran.
Former board member Gary Hanson, said in a letter to the municipality dated March 16 that, while the plan did result in the loss of slips, it created larger slips for which there was currently a demand. He said smaller moorage slips were currently available, but by creating larger slips more overall space could be utilized even though the overall moorage slip count was reduced.
Hanson said the issue had been debated on the board for some time and urged the assembly to approve the RFP.
The assembly unanimously approved the RFP with a condition the engineer hold two in-person meetings with the P&H board.
The assembly then addressed a letter from the board, signed by Chair Ed Fairbanks, requesting a feasibility study be conducted on a proposal to put a new floating harbor in Long Bay.
The letter stated that Long Bay was not affected by wind, and that “Assemblyman Hunz has checked private property lines and the Long Bay harbor and says the harbor can be accessed without infringing on private property in the area.”
The letter said there was a demand for moorage from Yukon residents, and about 30 were currently on a waiting list for a moorage slip.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said he supported a feasibility study. “It sounds like a good idea,” he said.
Mayor Cochran agreed that it should be looked into.
In his letter, Korsmo questioned whether the entire Ports and Harbors Advisory Board was in full support of the Long Bay harbor idea.
“A letter to the assembly from the board makes some very sketchy assumptions,” said Korsmo in his letter.
The idea for a Long Bay harbor was first brought forward by Mavis Henricksen at the P&H board’s Jan. 6 meeting, according to minutes posted on the municipal website.
Since that time there have been meetings on Jan. 20 and Feb 24 but the minutes for those meetings have not been turned in to the municipal office, according to Municipal Clerk Marj Harris.
Henricksen said via telephone that she had the minutes for the meetings, but they had not been sent to “city hall.”
She said the board decided at their Feb 24 meeting to draft a letter in support of a feasibility study for a Long Bay harbor.
The letter requesting a feasibility study be funded by the municipality was drafted and brought to a scheduled March 10 P&H board meeting, but a quorum could not be established. Henricksen said some changes were made, and the final draft was sent out, even though the board did not get to review the letter as a whole.
“I don’t consider the board had to approve it,” said Henricksen, who added the initial drafting of the letter had the full authority of the board.
Mayor Cochran said via telephone he was at the scheduled March 10 meeting and thought the final draft of the letter might have “been outside of the process.”
He said the letter could be readdressed at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for April 7.
Fairbanks and other members of the board were unavailable for comment. Most were out of town and one member, Keith Knorr, recently resigned.
Smith said the cost for a Long Bay feasibility study was unknown.
The Matthews family, which owns the uplands, is opposed to the idea (see March 12 issue).
Dyea Flats Management Plan update
The Dyea Advisory Board approved the final draft of an updated Dyea Flats Management Plan at its March 18 meeting. The plan is an update to an original that was formulated in 1996.
Chair John McDermott said the time had passed for review, and the new plan would bring codes up to date and set the direction for management of the flats for the next five years. He added the plan could be reviewed and changes made as necessary.
Board Member Alicia Wendlandt reviewed changes made to the original 1996 plan. She said that much of the language and code was carried over from the original document but, with help from the community, some goals were redefined with objectives that outline how to achieve the stated goals.
She described it as a five-year action plan, and said two new goals were added to rewrite the plan as required by the borough and “continue the development and maintenance of infrastructure required by the plan. The objective for the latter states that a liaison with appropriate municipal department heads would assist with budgetary needs and implementation for plans for flats management.
The plan will next go before the Planning and Zoning Commission on April 7 for public hearing, and then to the Borough Assembly on May 6, for public comment and final action.
GUEST COLUMN by Klye Dungan: Adventure and rescue on the Juneau Ice Field