May 27, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 9
A cruise ship sails from Skagway under the blue haze of a spring evening on Taiya Inlet.
Photo by Jeff Brady
AIDEA plans ore terminal expansion
By MARK ABADI
With a plan set and a basic timeline in motion, Skagway can finally begin looking forward to the long-awaited expansion of its ore terminal.
In a special assembly meeting last week, representatives from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority reaffirmed their commitment to Skagway and expressed hopes of beginning construction on the ore terminal as early as 2012.
Improvements to the terminal, which AIDEA has owned since 1990, would include replacing the ship loader and expanding the ore storage building.
In a ceremony at the terminal May 6, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell signed a bill authorizing AIDEA to bond up to $65 million to expand the terminal — a drastic increase from the previoys $10 million bonding limit.
Skagway is hoping the improvements to the terminal will make the municipality an attractive port for Yukon ore transportation companies.
Karl Reiche, projects development manager for AIDEA, said businesses have already contacted the agency about using the terminal, including Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd. and Western Copper Corp.
“I think there’s been four or five, everything from a mom-and-pop outfit to major enterprises,” he said.
AIDEA’s next step is to develop a finance plan for the bonding. But before it can issue the bonds, the agency will need evidence of community approval from Skagway, said AIDEA executive director Ted Leonard.
“The governor really believes in this team approach,” Leonard said at the assembly meeting. “We will need a resolution from the assembly approving us to issue the bond.”
Reiche said Selwyn Chihong Mining wants to complete negotiations with AIDEA by September, and would like to begin shipping to the expanded terminal by mid-2014.
Increased business to the terminal would translate to more year-round jobs in Skagway, Mayor Tom Cochran said.
But Cochran stressed at the meeting the positive impact the expansion would have on the local cruising industry. Multiple ships would be able to fit in the new ship loader, freeing up space at the Skagway port, he said.
“You could have a five-cruise ship day once this is all done,” he said.
Leonard said he hopes AIDEA will resolve some of its concerns about the project, including a possible need for dredging to fit larger vessels.
As the meeting began last week, Skagway Port Commissioner Steve Hites reminded the assembly to be aggressive in making the ore terminal improvements a reality.
“We’re going to have to fight for what we get,” Hites said. “That’s a huge opportunity for us to get the stuff that’s out there.”
Above, AIDEA Executive Director Ted Leonard (right) talks with Skagway Port Commissioner Gary Hanson about the ore terminal. Katie Emmets
Selwyn exploring changes for loading ships
Representing Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd., Paul Taylor attended the Skagway Port Commission meeting to discuss a draft proposal the company has sent to AIDEA Executive Director Ted Leonard in regard to building a ship loader to its specifications.
Throughout the May 20 meeting, Taylor mentioned that Skagway’s port is Selwyn’s top choice for exporting its product, however the company is concerned with a few major aspects, like the ship loader and environmental contamination issues.
Taylor said that Selwyn is prepared to take on the cost of a new ship loader as long as AIDEA is willing to build it to the company’s specifications.
“They are looking at whatever options they have to meet their financial and environmental obligations and move forward,” said Port Commission Chair John Tronrud, adding that that the mining company has called Skagway its perfect port during meetings throughout the year.
Tronrud said Selwyn would need to be positive that the ore terminal will be environmentally safe after the renovations before committing to Skagway’s port.
“Fugitive dust can get out in the process, and then you have lead laying around,” Tronrud said, adding that Skagway had a contamination issue in the mid 1980s and a major town cleanup was required. “You can’t have that anymore.”
Selwyn is having trouble finding a ship loader that will move exactly the way it wants it to, but the one major requirement is that it swings away from the face of the dock, as opposed to straight up and down, like the current one.
Right now, the terminal’s ship loader is completely covered and was designed that way so that the copper ore, which is what Skagway is currently shipping, would not get loose. But Tronrud said that on a very windy day, some pieces can blow off the conveyor belt. – KE
UPDATE: The Skagway Borough Assembly will be having a special meeting on a Selwyn Pacific Dock Conceptual Plan on Thursday, June 9 at 5 p.m. at the Skagway Public Library.
School budget passes without amendments
By KATIE EMMETS
The Skagway School budget passed the borough assembly without so much as a peep after no amendments were made before the May 15 deadline.
For the 2012 fiscal year, the school will receive a total of $1,737,799 from the municipality: $1,255,091 for its operating fund and $482,708 in outside funding, which will go toward special programs such as music, vocational education and preschool.
Last year, with 78 students budgeted for the 2011 fiscal year, the school received a total of $1,504,780 after much deliberation from the assembly and a lot of figure trimming. With 60 projected students for next year, the school will receive $233,019 more than it did last year.
In an interview after the meeting, Assemblyman and Finance Chair Dan Henry said the assembly was prepared to fully fund the school with the $1,737,799 it asked for because a decrease in enrollment resulted in less state funding for next year’s operating budget.
There were also a few other issues that were out of the municipality’s control, such as a rise in the cost of living, utilities and insurance costs, he said.
Henry also mentioned the municipality received more sales tax revenue than originally estimated.
“The expected uncontrollable increases, sales tax revenue coming in over projection, and the need to educate our youth made it easy for a unanimous vote,” he said.
Because last year’s school budget took a lot longer to sort out than expected, the presentation date was moved up to Feb. 15.
“All we wanted was for all the major players to sit at the table at the same time because it was such a contentions issue last year,” Henry said.
On the other side of the spectrum, Skagway School Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said he is very excited about the passing of the budget.
“There was quite a bit of contention last year, but this year everyone was in support,” Thielbar said. “I don’t think there was one assembly member that I spoke to privately that wasn’t supporting us.”
Although he said the school already reduced quite a bit last year by cutting three major teaching positions, the assembly has asked it to continue making cuts for the 2011-2012 school year.
“Next year, they might not be able to fund as much, and they have asked us to start being a little frugal, so we are going to do that,” Thielbar said. “We heard them loud and clear.”
Thielbar said he doesn’t have any staff reductions in the works, but that the plan is to focus on technology and allow students to take part in online courses and revamp its website.
“Although it is an expense this year, it is a one time expense,” he said. “It will bring down future use expenses and keep us from having to hire a few more teachers.”
For example, the school has discussed adding French online.
Thielbar also hopes to implement a project course where people from the community would come in to teach students anything from how to change oil in a car to how to paint.
“I heard quite a bit of commentary of people who would want to volunteer their time for this,” he said.
Gas pipeline still being promoted
By KATIE EMMETS
About 20 Skagway officials and residents met with representatives of the Alaska Pipeline Project to get updates on the current state of the project.
As of the May 13 meeting, no plans have changed since June 2010, the last time APP officials came to town.
There are two efficient options for the transportation of the nearly 39 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the North Slope area: the Alberta option and the Valdez option.
The Alberta option would carry 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas through 1,700 miles of 48-inch pipeline per day. With this option, 743 miles would be located in Alaska and 965 miles would be in Canada. This option would most likely distribute to the North American continent.
The Valdez option would carry 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas through 803 miles of 48-inch pipeline per day. The entire line would be located in Alaska, and this option would distribute abroad to mainly Asian countries.
Both options would require the pipeline to be chilled in Alaska to protect its natural permafrost layer.
APP project representative Bryan Trimm said a line to Valdez would cost about $26 billion while the Alberta line would cost anywhere from $35 to $42 billion.
The Alaska Pipeline Project held its open season last year from April 30 to July 30. During this time, project members held discussions with potential shippers, such as BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon, detailing the costs and the logistics of transporting the natural gas.
In an interview, APP Spokesman Brian Dunphy said these detailed discussions were private and confidential and he could not relay what the companies said.
Researchers have dedicated most of their time learning about the Valdez option and they will spend this year studying the Alberta option.
Dunphy said that from a project standpoint, Skagway could potentially be an important part of the construction, especially if the Alberta option is chosen.
Skagway is well situated in relation to where the pipeline route would be located in Canada, he said, and therefore a good port to ship resources.
Supplies and pipeline would be coming in for the first three years of construction, and Skagway and Haines would be considerable ports for the Alberta option, but Anchorage would be a key port for the Valdez option.
The Alaska Pipeline Project is set to begin construction in 2015 with lines fully running in 2021.
And with construction comes jobs.
Dunphy said there are two phases of jobs: the construction phase and the long term phase.
Because the pipeline will require a significant amount of resources during construction, Dunphy said it could create thousands of jobs, which would range from clearing out the area where the line would go to figuring out how to feed and house workers.
When the construction is complete, Dunphy said the jobs would decrease.
“Once the project is operational, there will be significantly less jobs than during the construction phase,” he said. “The pipeline doesn’t need a lot of folks working on it.”
About 500 people will be required to run the gas treatment plant in Prudhoe Bay and an additional 100 will be working on the maintenance of the pipeline itself.
Local resident Eric Hosford, who has worked on the Alaska pipeline before as a service oiling and mechanics helper, came to the meeting with an interest in the jobs the pipeline might create.
“The last time the pipeline went through here, people from Alaska didn’t have the skill or the trade so they hired workers from Texas,” Hosford said.
Although he thinks that schools should start teaching students early, Hosford said residents of any age can learn a trade and get certified by completing an apprenticeship program so they can have the opportunity to be a part of the pipeline’s construction.
Gerry Andrews, Alaska Apprenticeship & Pipeline Training Coordinator, came to the meeting with the APP representatives to encourage residents to explore vocational training with their children in hopes of Alaskans getting jobs on the Alaska pipelines.
Skagway climber summits McKinley
By MARK ABADI
Skagway resident Aric Baldwin became one of the first climbers to summit Mount McKinley this year, shortly before two deaths shocked the Alaska climbing community.
Baldwin completed his ascent May 10, 17 days after he and friends Christine Byl and Gabe Travis left as the second team of the climbing season.
At 20,320 feet, Mount McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America, and towers over the other peaks in central Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve.
Violent winds forced the team to stop climbing for days at a time as they waited in subzero temperatures for the weather to improve. During one painful stretch, the group — knowing its “weather window” was closing — grinded out 3,000 feet in two days, twice the advisable pace.
The rapid pace proved costly, as exhaustion forced Byl and Travis to stop climbing at 18,300 feet, leaving Baldwin to climb the rest of McKinley alone.
“We decided, I was feeling OK at that point, and if you feel good, you should just go for it,” Baldwin said.
Byl said she and Travis had more trouble than Baldwin acclimatizing to the lack of oxygen that comes with high altitude. At 17,000 feet, she said, the air contains half the amount of oxygen it does at sea level.
“All the bodily processes that rely on oxygen are just sluggish,” Byl said. “We decided it was better for one of us to go faster than for all of us to not get all the way up.”
So while Byl and Travis rested and boiled water, Baldwin climbed. Three hours and 40 minutes later, he stood on McKinley’s peak and looked down below.
“It was beautiful — a sea of clouds,” he said.
After a careful one-day descent, the three checked in for a debriefing session May 12, when park rangers informed them of some sobering news: there had been an accident on the mountain that day. Later, they learned Beat Niederer, a 38-year-old Swiss mountaineer, had died on the mountain.
Baldwin’s group had shared a campsite with Niederer’s team a few days earlier.
“It was extra weird because of the fact they had been kind of neighbors in a way,” Byl said. “It made it even more concrete.”
Skagway resident Aric Baldwin contemplates the next day’s climb, the hardest stretch for the group. Baldwin climbs the headwall of Mount McKinley’s West Buttress. Baldwin, along with friends Christine Byl and Gabe Travis, spent 17 days climbing the 20,320-foot mountain in Denali National Park and Preserve. Baldwin was the only member of the party to summit. Photos courtesy of Aric Baldwin
Maureen McLaughlin, public information officer at Denali, said Niederer’s cause of death has not been determined, but he may have succumbed to the frigid weather. Other members of his team were rescued with frostbite to their hands, legs and feet.
“Traveling in those conditions, you always think nothing’s going to happen to you,” Baldwin said. “It’s a bit of a wake-up call. You always have to be on your guard.”
Travis said learning of the death reinforced his decision to stop climbing rather than risk his safety in the treacherous weather.
“We were not that far from being in a similar situation, had we made different decisions and pushed the weather window,” Travis said.
Just four days after Niederer was found dead, Italian climber Luciano Colombo fell to his death while attempting to traverse Denali Pass, an icy slope near the 18,000-foot mark.
The climber was not using ropes or snow anchors as advised by Denali staff, McLaughlin said.
The two fatalities equal the amount seen last year. Since 1932, 110 climbers have died trying to climb McKinley.
The surprising deaths are unlikely to deter Baldwin, who said he has been climbing since he was 10. The 33-year-old spent five years working as a trail crew leader in Denali, where he met Byl and Travis, who are married and live in Healy.
In 2008 Baldwin moved to Skagway to work on the maintenance crew on the Chilkoot Trail. He is back again this summer as trail crew leader.
The three friends have gone on several climbing trips since then.
“There’s no one I’d rather be in the mountains with,” Byl said.
And the threat of frostbite, injury or even death will never keep them off the mountains.
“There’s a lot of danger in ordinary life, too. People get hit by buses and die of cholesterol,” she said. “I don’t think climbing is way more dangerous.”
BIG FLING – Skagway High School graduates fling their caps in the air at the conclusion of commencement ceremonies on May 16. Katie Emmets
Class of 2011 goes out in style
Amid an explosion of confetti and a sea of gold and white balloons, the Skagway High School graduating class of 2011 entered its commencement ceremony in style May 16.
The introduction, set to the beat of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” but abruptly cutting off for the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” was just the beginning of a memorable and emotional evening for the 11 seniors.
During the ceremony, the seniors heard speeches from their fellow students, soaked up life advice from their former teacher and watched a slideshow of photos from throughout their childhoods, demonstrating their growth over the years.
The seniors then collected more than $30,000 in college scholarships before they walked across the stage and received their diplomas to the applause of the audience. – MA
For photos and quotations from the commencement ceremony, see SHS Graduation 2011.
Third seal was shot
Residents aren’t any closer to learning about the death of a seal discovered in Dyea last month.
The Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network has sent samples from the harbor seal to a state pathologist, said Kaili Jackson, assistant stranding coordinator for the network.
“It’s kind of a waiting game,” she said.
The seal was discovered shot in the head April 7 at the mouth of the Taiya River.
“We actually had pulled a bullet out of the skull,” Jackson said. “The priority on getting those samples tested drops when we have a good idea of how the animal died.”
Those performing the necropsy were unable to determine the type of bullet, said Ron Antaya of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries office of law enforcement.
The dead seal was the third discovered in a three-week span in Skagway waters. A fourth dead seal was found last week (see May 27 Blotter). Two sea lions were found dead in February.
Anyone with information concerning these marine mammal deaths should contact NOAA’s enforcement office at 586-7225 or call the enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964, Antaya said. — MA
North Words Writers Symposium preview: Howard Blum, author of The Floor of Heaven to keynote
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Mayor Tom Cochran said negotiations on a tidelands lease extension between Skagway and White Pass and Yukon Route have begun and are going positively.
The lease, which is set to expire in 2023, is being negotiated in advance of anticipated mining activity in the Yukon. AIDEA also would like an extension of its lease for the ore terminal.
After much discussion over the winter, the municipality and White Pass officials are starting to come to terms, and Cochran said he will be drafting a letter to send to White Pass to further negotiations. The borough’s negotiating team includes the mayor, Vice Mayor Dan Henry, and Port Commission Chair John Tronrud, as well as the borough attorney.
Cochran said that WP&YR President Eugene Hretzay has not only been planning for the future, but thinking about plans for 20 to 30 years down the road.
“He was looking more at the big picture, which was what we were trying to get him to do all along,” Cochran said. “It is refreshing.”
Both Hretzay and Cochran said they think this agreement will be a win-win for the municipality and for White Pass.
“I want to help the municipality,” Hretzay said in a brief interview this week.
Election to move to Aug. 25
A special election that could ban smoking inside of most Skagway workplaces passed first reading at the May 12 assembly meeting.
Originally scheduled to take place on Aug. 2, the date had to be moved to Aug. 25 to satisfy state requirements for passing a special elections ordinance and federal requirements for election approval.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz was against the switch because of the additional funding special elections require.
“Why spend money on a special election if the (regular) election is just going to be a month and a half later,” he said.
But Assemblyman Dan Henry said he thinks the special election is necessary and would be out of respect for employees of establishments that currently allow indoor smoking.
“Everyone would like to resolve this ASAP, and because we are precluded from having it any earlier than August 25, it can’t come soon enough,” he said.
Henry also added that the position on smoking nationally, statewide and locally is “very definite and very clear.”
Noise ordinance passed
The second reading of an ordinance that would curb noise passed at the May 12 meeting.
Elane Furbish spoke in support of the animal noise amendment to chapter 6.4 of the ordinance, which states “it shall be unlawful for any owner or custodian of an animal to permit it to make chronic animal noises.”
Furbish said that separating animal noises from chapter 9.03, which deals with noise control, was a good idea.
“If it was fused with other noises and put on the decibel level of seven, it would become ineffective because dogs barking is a quality of noise issue as opposed to a level of noise issue,” she said.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said an amendment should be created that would exempt all transportation corridors such as the airport, railroad and state highway from the ordinance, because the noise they provide generally lasts longer than seven consecutive minutes between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and five consecutive minutes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Although the other assembly members didn’t feel the amendment was necessary because transportation is federally and nationally regulated, the amendment passed unanimously.
Later in the meeting, Resolution No. 11-02R, which established penalties for noise violations, passed unanimously. The penalties are as follows:
• First offense: Warning
• Second offense: $100
• Third offense: $300
• Fourth offense: $500
• Each additional offense: $500
Conditional uses discussed
A Civic Affairs Committee meeting was held to discuss the possible removal of a conditional use permit from the requirements in order to serve alcohol in the Business General district.
In the May 20 meeting, discussions were centered on the permit application that has not been acknowledged for about 20 years.
When Mark and Beth Smith applied for a duplicate liquor license to serve alcohol at the old Corner Café, Assemblyman and Civic Affairs Chair Mike Korsmo found a provision in the code that a conditional use permit must be obtained.
Although they were ultimately turned down by the ABC board, the Smiths applied for a conditional use permit and were turned down by P&Z, but that decision was later overturned by the assembly.
Because they did not ever have to apply for conditional use permits, other bar owners in town who attended the meeting said they think that this provision should be taken out of the code.
Red Onion owner Jan Wrentmore said she has been in the bar business in Skagway for 30 years and along with every other bar owner in town, she was never asked to apply for a conditional use permit.
If the ABC board approves serving alcohol in an establishment, Wrentmore said, she doesn’t see why an additional permit needs to be obtained.
“I think people expect to be served food and alcohol in a business district,” Wrentmore said.
Korsmo will take the meeting’s findings back to the assembly for further discussion.
Schaefer replaces Hisman
Mark Schaefer will take Colette Hisman’s seat on the Skagway Borough Assembly until the general election in October.
Hisman resigned from Skagway’s Borough Assembly on May 16 following the death of her husband Dennis on May 10.
In a letter submitted to Mayor Tom Cochran and assembly members,
Hisman wrote she would not be able to dedicate the time and effort she knows it takes to be an assembly member in order to best serve the community.
“I truly appreciate the Assembly members, City Hall staff, volunteers and Skagway community members for all their work and consideration during my elected terms,” she wrote. “It has been a privilege and experience I will always value.” – KE