June 10, 2011 • Vol. XXXIV, No. 10
Fran Delisle takes a break during her namesake 7-mile walk-a-thon on June 4. See story below.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Selwyn proposes new ore terminal at mouth of river
The Skagway Borough Assembly held a special meeting on the Selwyn Pacific Dock Conceptual Plan on Thursday, June 9 at Skagway City Hall in order to discuss plans more and get further public opinion. The meeting occurred after press time.
Although Selwyn representative Paul Taylor was looking for some kind of feedback from the assembly at its June 2 meeting in regard to the mining company’s plans for a new ore terminal, assembly members decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to bring this issue before Skagway residents.
“This is a huge project and will have major implications on the community,” said Assemblyman and TEMSCO manager Paul Reichert.
Selwyn is proposing a new ore terminal be built at the mouth of the Skagway River where TEMSCO is located.
Mayor Tom Cochran agreed the public should be involved and didn’t want the community coming to assembly members asking, “You voted on what?” if they chose not to get residents’ opinions.
As stated in a letter from Selwyn President Harlan Meade dated June 1, which assembly members received they day of the meeting, the company is inquiring whether or not the Selwyn Pacific Dock proposal is consistent with the Skagway Port Development Plan the assembly approved in 2008 and updated in 2010.
The assembly decided it would not give an answer until holding a public meeting. There will be extensive coverage of this issue in the next paper. For a visual of the Selwyn Pacific Dock ore terminal proposal, see page 4 or the link on the News website. – KATIE EMMETS
UPDATE: The Skagway Borough Assembly held another special meeting on the Selwyn Pacific Dock Conceptual Plan on Monday, June 13 and composed a letter to send to Selwyn Chihong. See story in June 24 issue.
See related EDITORIAL: Waterfront games: no sure thing except who owns the port
Howard Blum gives his keynote address about how he came to write The Floor of Heaven. Alaska mystery writer John Straley (glasses) talks with Yukon participants Laurel Parry, Lawrie Crawford and Dan Davidson in a breakout session on fiction writing on the shore of Lake Bennett. JB
NWWS hits home again
By KATIE EMMETS
The North Words Writers Symposium’s more than doubled in size on its return to Skagway this year.
The June 1-4 symposium had 26 participants, 11 faculty members and three board members, which symposium founder Buckwheat Donahue said is up from last year’s total number of 12.
Three participants traveled from the Lower 48 (Hawaii, Maryland and New Hampshire), while the rest of the attendees came from Alaska and the Yukon.
Donahue said he attributes the increase in participants to symposium board member Dan Henry of Haines.
“Haines Dan Henry put together a dynamite faculty,” he said adding that symposium keynote speaker Howard Blum, was also a large part in attracting participants.
Blum, a New York Times bestselling author, recently published a book which chronicles a “true tale” of the Yukon Gold Rush.
The book follows the lives of detective Charlie Siringo, gold discoverer George Carmack and con man Jefferson R. “Soapy” Smith, until they cross paths in Skagway in 1898.
“I love being here,” Blum said. “It’s such a beautiful place, but what interests me the most is that it hasn’t changed that much since the gold rush.”
Blum compared Skagway’s everyday practices to that of its gold rush history.
Tour companies rushing to meet cruise ships remind Blum of Soapy’s gang rushing to meet the ships filled with gold-seeking hopefuls, and the jewelry stores sprinkled around town remind him of Soapy’s gang conning prospectors out of their money.
“It’s a town of schemers and dreamers and visitors,” he said. “ And it will be that way forever.”
Twentieth Century Fox has acquired the rights to The Floor of Heaven and Blum said it is in the development stage, which could be a long journey, a short journey or a journey that leads to a dead end. In his keynote address, Blum said actors George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. and Jonny Depp are being considered for the major roles in the movie.
Blum said he is happy he finally got to experience Skagway, as he was unable to visit during the research process of his newest book. His only other trip to Alaska took him to Juneau and Fairbanks.
“I have kind of been looking at everything here in terms of sets for movie scenes,” he said, adding that he took pictures of areas around town and in Dyea to send to studio executives.
Blum said his favorite part of the conference was sitting at Lower Dewey Lake with seven others who didn’t get to ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route to Lake Bennett.
On what Donahue called “Reject Thursday,” four faculty members and four participants were not allowed to ride the WP&YR train because they didn’t have their passports. Instead they hiked up to Lower Dewey Lake and chatted about writing.
“We were just sitting around the lake with spruce trees around, talking about what we like and what we want to write about, and we formed so many ideas,” Blum said. “I was so impressed with the level of participants, and intelligence and perceptiveness of my fellow writers.”
Blum said coming to Skagway was a nice alternative to being in the bright lights and big city, noting that Alaskans and Yukoners are different from writers his is familiar with in New York.
“You have a lot of egos, a lot of competition and a lot of glittering prizes,” he said. “But here, people are more concerned about writing.”
In the midst of both published writers like Blum and aspiring Skagweigan writers, young talent was also represented.
Friday night at the National Park Service Auditorium, along with other participants, Charlie Henry of “Haines read his short story.
Donahue said 13-year-old Henry was one of the best original writers and storytellers who shared work at the symposium.
“His writing was very entertaining and it kept everyone laughing,” Donahue said. “That guy’s got a future.”
Next year, the North Words Writers Symposium will be held in Denali National Park and the following year, in Dawson City, and Donahue said he hopes this event will inspire authors to write about Skagway and the region. The conference will return here in 2014.
“By having this symposium, we hope to familiarize authors with this region and its accurate historical information,” he said, adding that all faculty members have expressed story ideas involving Skagway or the Klondike in some way.
“We hope to get information out about Skagway in fiction and non-fiction books that will trigger something in readers ten years from now and inspire them to come here,” he said.
Chilkoot shortcut blocked
Hikers no longer allowed access to railroad tracks for walking out to highway at Log Cabin
By MARK ABADI
Coming home from the Chilkoot Trail is now a little pricier following the closure of a popular shortcut.
The Bare Loon Cut-Off Trail, which hikers used for years as a means to avoid buying a train ticket to Skagway, was closed by Parks Canada last month.
The move – just in time for the start of trail season last week – effectively ensured hikers will have to pay to leave Bennett, the British Columbia town at the end of the 33-mile Chilkoot.
Parks Canada officials said they closed the shortcut to eliminate the illegal activity it led to. Rather than walk an extra four miles on the trail to Bennett, hikers would use the Bare Loon shortcut to reach the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. They would then walk along the tracks until they reach the highway crossing at Log Cabin, where they would catch a ride.
The Bare Loon side trail had been used for decades, and was maintained by Parks Canada until the collapse of a pedestrian bridge last year caused officials to reevaluate the cut-off trail.
“We came to the conclusion we can’t actually have this trail because we were incidentally leading people to an unknown, dangerous and illegal activity,” said Barry Troke, superintendent for the Chilkoot Trail in Canada. “We were providing access to something known to be dangerous. If we know it’s illegal, how can we morally send people directly to it?”
“No trespassing” signs have always marked the railroad property, but they were largely ignored by hikers who chose the shortcut.
With the shortcut now blocked by signs and tape, hikers returning to Alaska will most likely opt to pay $95 for a one-way train ticket from Bennett to Skagway. The other method of leaving the Chilkoot is by float plane, which takes customers from Bennett to Whitehorse, Yukon, but arrangements must be made ahead ot time.
The closure is good news for the WP&YR, which has seen an increase in its Chilkoot Trail excursion business. Statistics from the first two weeks of the hiking season were not yet available, but WP&YR independent sales and reservations manager Allison Haas said the company has noticed an uptick in sales.
“As far as staff noticing more phone calls, more e-mails, more reservations about it, for sure,” Haas said. “It seems we’re getting more inquiries, more bookings.”
The railway was not included in the decision-making process and has no relationship with Parks Canada, Troke said.
Gerd Mannsperger, operations manager for Whitehorse-based Alpine Aviation, said he’s seen a slight increase in his float plane business, although he did not attribute it necessarily to the closure of the cut-off trail.
Neither Parks Canada nor the National Parks Service has experienced the public backlash they expected following the closure.
The demographic most likely to use the cut-off trail – local hikers and repeat Chilkoot visitors – only represented 20 to 25 percent of all Chilkoot hikers, said Tim Steidel, chief ranger of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which manages the U.S. side of the Chilkoot.
“It’s going to be an inconvenience, a bit of an impact to that user group,” Steidel said. “But the majority of hikers who come to the trail from outside are taking the train.”
“It’s always a difficult challenge for the public when a trail like that gets closed,” he added. “But we understand the situation Parks Canada was in, supporting an illegal activity. You can’t do that.”
“They had no option in the legal world we live in today.”
Fourth dead seal found this spring
A baby seal was discovered dead at Smuggler's Cove in late May, bringing the number of dead seals found in the area this spring to four.
Anna Korsmo and Hannah O'Daniel, students at Skagway High School, werehiking to Smuggler's Cove May 25 when they found the seal. They called Skagway Police Officer Rick Ackerman and their science teacher Cory Thole, who arrived just before 6 p.m. to bag the decaying animal.
Like the three animals found in March and April, the seal appeared to have been shot in the head, Thole said.
"Unfortunately, there's yet another dead seal that looked like the victim of human activity," he said.
Police took the animal and offered it to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to perform an autopsy, but the corpse was too deteriorated to accept, a police spokesperson said. The carcass was incinerated. – MARK ABADI
Walkers, runners, babies and dogs pose in front of the Chilkoot Trail Outpost before walking about seven miles into town to raise money for breast cancer awareness and early cancer detection tests for Skagway residents. KE
Delisle participates in walk she created 16 years ago
By KATIE EMMETS
She came to town with a walking cane and a small, pink, blown-glass bottle. With these items, she walked nearly eight miles for breast cancer awareness in the fundraiser she created.
Fran Delisle has been battling breast cancer and its side effects for more than 20 years, and in 1995, she and members of Skagway’s Eagle Auxiliary and Emblem Club organized an event to help pay for early cancer detection for residents.
After three bouts with breast cancer, Delisle is finally in remission, and this year was the first time, in a long time, she was able to be in Skagway for the Fran Delisle Breast Cancer Awareness Walk-a-Thon.
“I can’t believe how much this community has taken up the cause and kept the walk alive even when I haven’t been here,” said Delisle, who currently lives in Kodiak.
Between treatment and medevacs, she said she has used a lot of money that went into the Fran Delisle Breast Cancer Awareness Fund that the walk-a-thon has helped provide support.
“I would really like to thank the entire community of Skagway for all the support, friendship and devotion to me,” she said.
Delisle is getting ready to sell her house in Kodiak and move to Kenai, but she said Skagway will always be her home.
“It felt really good to be here,” she said. “It was like going through a tunnel and seeing the light at the end.”
Although she had to use her cane at the June 4 walk-a-thon, Delisle said she is trying cut back on using it in order to take back control of her life, and since the walk, she said she has been using it less and less.
What Delisle also had on the walk was the small, pink, blown-glass bottle.
“I keep by best friend’s ashes in there,” she said. “She died of breast cancer last year.”
Delisle met Ann McComb while she was receiving treatment in California in the early 1990s. McComb was always there for Delisle and made her realize that her heart belonged in Alaska – and she paid for her to get back.
“She made my dream come true, so I brought her with me,” Delisle said, adding that McCord wanted to participate in the first walk-a-thon but couldn’t because her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer right before the event.
Although she still holds McCord’s ashes in the bottle, pink for breast cancer, Delisle sprinkled some of them along the Dyea Road during the walk.
“I had to leave a little of her behind because she always wanted to come on this walk with me,” Delisle said, softly and slowly while holding back tears. “But she never got to.”
After helping Delisle get back on her feet and supporting her both monetarily and mentally, McComb was also diagnosed with breast cancer and died June 16, 2010.
“I came to walk this for myself,” she said. “But I walked for her, too.”
After passing the last aid station on the way into Skagway, Delisle headed down the steep, rocky Yakutania Point cut off by herself.
“I kept thinking, ‘why did they send me this way?’ ” she said throwing her hands in the air. “But I took a lot of pictures of it. My doctor is going to kill me when she sees them, but she is going to be pretty proud of me for doing this because she knows what I’ve gone though.”
This is the first time since the start of the fundraiser in 1995 that Delisle has been able to walk the entire route – from the Chilkoot Trail Outpost to the Elks Lodge at 7th Avenue and State Street – and she was greeted with a loud round of applause upon arrival.
At the lunch following the walk, Mayor Tom Cochran read a proclamation, which declared the first Saturday in June Fran Delisle Cancer Awareness Day, in recognition of her creation of the Fran Delisle Breast Cancer Awareness Fund.
And she said this was a complete surprise to her,
“Tom was a really close friend of mine when I worked at the Eagles, and I had no idea he was mayor,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting any of that at all. I was overwhelmed with emotions.”
Cochran also presented Delisle with a glass art piece made by Debbie Ackerman, which has a breast cancer ribbon in the center.
Delisle is getting ready to move to Kenai, and she said she will build a solarium on her property out of glass she has acquired over the years.
“I am going to put the glass piece into the construction of the solarium, so I can see the light shining through it while I am sitting out there,” she said. “This way, it will always be a part of me.”
Delisle left Wendesday morning with her walking cane and her pink, blown-glass bottle.
But she left with something she felt she didn’t have before.
“Being able to do this was like walking through a tunnel and seeing light at the end of it,” she said. “And in that aspect, I am finally beginning to take back my life.”
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Assembly passes budget
The budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year totaling $5,037,471, was adopted at the May 26 borough assembly meeting after a few major amendments were made.
During the second reading at the May 12 meeting, $319,385 of sales tax reserves was added to balance the budget after Assemblyman Dan Henry informed the assembly that there was about $10.2 million in sales tax reserves. This amendment passed with a 5-0 vote.
During the third reading, $10,000 was removed from bear-proof garbage lids and placed in the Skagway Police vehicle allocation.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz suggested this fund transfer and said that not all garbage cans need new lids. He added that bear-proof garbage lids are very tough to lift and both his father and wife have had trouble with them.
But Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he thought it would be a public safety issue not to take all necessary precautions when it comes to bears, but changed his mind when Chief Ray Leggett went explained both of these issues further.
Leggett expressed the need for updated vehicles and also said the bear climate is good, and that bears are getting discouraged when they cannot get into garbage cans on the outskirts of town and land are leaving.
The budget passed its third reading unanimously with a 6-0 vote. The mill rate for Service Area 1 will hold at 8.0. — KE
Bar permit hearing before P&Z
The removal of a conditional use permit from the requirements in order to serve alcohol in the business general district will be discussed at a June 16 Planning and Zoning meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
At the June 2 borough assembly meeting, Assemblyman and Civic Affairs Chair Mike Korsmo Brought back findings from a May 20 Civic Affairs meeting that some of Skagway’s bar owners attended.
Korsmo said the general consensus of the meeting was the conditional use requirement should be taken out because it had not been put into practice since the early 90s. Grandfathering existing businesses was also a suggestion put forth by Red Onion owner Jan Wrentmore.
John Tronrud spoke to the assembly saying he remembered when the nearly 20-year ignored permit application was implemented.
Because the Historic District and Business General District are tightly packed areas, Tronrud said he thinks the permit requirement should continue to be implemented because it allows for community input to be heard and considered.
Assemblymen Dave Hunz and Mark Shaefer agreed with Tronrud and think the permit requirement should be left in code. Hunz also added that he does not agree with existing bars being grandfathered in.
On the other hand, Assemblyman Paul Reichert said he thinks the ABC Board’s decision on whether to award a liquor license should be enough, adding that he is in favor of taking the conditional use requirement out.
What all the assemblymen and the mayor did agree on, however, was sending the discussion of the conditional use permit to P&Z to get their opinion. — KE
Riparian setbackordinance floated
An ordinance designed to protect the environment could ultimately limit the changes Skagway residents can make to structures on their property.
The ordinance, proposed by the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council, would establish zones of native vegetation extending 15 feet out from all creeks and streams running through Skagway.
The areas of vegetation, known as riparian buffer zones, would help maintain water quality and improve the habitats of fish and wildlife.
The ordinance would have major implications for property owners, who would be prevented from building structures within the 15-foot buffer zones.
The watershed council proposed the 15-foot buffer zones along Pullen Creek, Lillegraven Creek, Dairy Creek and the creeks and streams that feed into the Skagway River.
“It’s a pretty substantial amount of properties affected,” said Dave Van Horn, permitting official for Skagway.
TIWC executive director A.J. Conley said 25- to 50-foot buffer zones would be ideal but unrealistic in highly dense and developed Skagway.
“Fifty feet would be taking out people’s entire property,” she said. “Fifteen feet is kind of as small as you can go and still maintain riparian features.”
The ordinance calls for 50-foot buffer zones in minimally developed areas such as the West Creek watershed and Dyea.
Members of Skagway’s Planning and Zoning Commission are being careful in the language of the ordinance, which will not allow new structures to be built in the buffer zones. Existing structures would be grandfathered in and allowed to stand.
“Say there’s a building in disrepair, and you want to get rid of this building and put in a new one. That’s not going to be allowable,” Van Horn said.
Other Southeast Alaskan towns such as Haines and Juneau already have riparian buffer zone legislation in place, establishing setback zones between 25 and 50 feet.
P&Z will present the ordinance to the Skagway Borough Assembly at a June 13 meeting, and then will hold a public hearing June 16 at City Hall.
Commission members expect to hear from residents concerned about the ordinance’s effects on their property and their ability to make changes to it.
“I don’t want to see anything we do devalue anybody’s property,” commission member Spencer Morgan said. – MA
SCHOOL REPORT (complete digest in print edition)
Skagway School employee raises in new agreements
At the May 31 Skagway School Board meeting, the board adopted a new certified salary schedule, which will allow for raises of teachers’ salaries over the next three school years.
This agreement was negotiated between the Skagway School District Board of Education and the Skagway Teachers Organization.
For the 2011-2012 and the 2012-2013 school years, teachers will receive a 2 percent raise each of those years, and a 1.5 percent raise for the school year of 2013-2014.
The agreement also defines rules for teacher leaves and extra curricular salaries.
Later that evening, after an executive session, the board passed a motion to increase non-certified staff raises by 3 percent.
These raises will go into effect for the 2011- 2012 school year. – KE
New interim science teacher
In a May 31 Skagway School Board meeting, Dr. Jefferie Theilbar named Thomas Diehl as the chosen candidate for the interim science teacher position.
During the 2011-2012 school year, science teacher Cory Thole will be working for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park while taking distance courses towards a math certification in order to teach high school classes such as calculus.
“If I were to try to do that and teach, I would have no time for my family,” he said. “So I have taken a job at the park, and it’s only four days a week.”
Thole said there was a total of 25 applicants for his position, which were narrowed down to four candidates by a three-person selection committee made up of himself, Theilbar, and Board Member Stuart Brown.
Theilbar said if ultimately hired, Diehl, who has 45 credits in addition to his degree and a lot of prior experience, would receive a larger amount of compensation than Thole, who was hired at the Skagway School with only a few credits beyond his degree and no experience other than student teaching.
Diehl currently teaches in southern California. – KE
Maintenance cost savings
The 2010-2012 Maintenance Department State of the School report came out on May 25 and it appears as if the Skagway School has been and will continue to be making positive economical and environmental choices.
Seimans was awarded the undertaking of the new heater control system project with a bid of $104,880.
The project will replace a total of 35 pneumatic thermostats with digital ones while also switching the pneumatic actuator valves to electronic actuator valves in the basement heaters. This system will have a universal network controlled with a web enabling capacity for better monitoring.
According to the report, this project has the potential to reduce fuel usage by 6197 gallons per year – from 15,197 gallons to 9,000 gallons.
Seimens will be working on this throughout the summer. – KE