August 13, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 14
Fireweed Fisher in Dyea
This young grizzly bear and a companion have been checking out the pink salmon run on evenings in Dyea the past week. A number of human fishermen have been out there as well. Keep your distance and enjoy the show, but if too many people show up, the bears have been known to go elsewhere.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Revised school budget allows part-time hires for music, library
Pre-school program fund-raising nearing goal
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway School Board, in special session Tuesday night, passed a budget amendment based on additional funds it received from the borough assembly last month. The amendment allows funding for two part-time positions that were eliminated earlier this summer.
In all, through a combination of municipal funding to the state-allowed cap and $250,000 for extra programs like activities and food service, the local contribution to the district increased by a net of about $45,000, said new Superintendent Jefferie Thielbar.
The budget amendment boosts to the overall operating fund of the school to $2,078,581 and allows the district to:
• restore the part-time librarian position.
• transfer the vocational technology position back into the operating fund. It had been in the extra funding account.
• transfer the music program back into the operating fund with a reduced schedule of three hours per day. It also was completely cut this past spring, and then proposed as a half-time program during municipal budget cutting. Previously, it had been a full-time program funded by extra funds from the municipality.
The district is advertising for the librarian and music positions, and the previous holders of those positions, Nan Saldi and John Baldwin respectively, are expected to apply, Thielbar said.
Also built into the new budget was a portion of a 2009-10 surplus of $88,860, he noted, as the board also passed its final budget amendment for the preceding school year. Most of it, however, will go into a reserve account for “unanticipated needs,” Thielbar said. This is allowed when the district’s surplus is below 10 percent of its overall budget; otherwise it would be returned to the state.
Assembly liaison Tim Cochran questioned an apparent $19,090 discrepancy in the employee benefits line item under the vocational technology section that was moved from its previous special revenue fund to the operating account. After checking it out the next day with business services manager Kathy Pierce, Thielbar explained that the increase was due to the change in teachers, moving the benefits from the extra fund into the operating fund (where there already were some funds), and how TRS benefits are accounted for the state. Veteran elementary teacher Vivian Meyer has moved into the tech position, replacing second-year teacher Andy Zalit, who was part of the spring reduction in force. Zalit has moved and taken a job with Northern Arizona University.
School will still start Aug. 19 with one less position in both the elementary and the high school. Sixth grade has been moved into middle school, and three teachers in the middle-high school wing will be teaching social studies classes.
Thielbar thanked the assembly for the $45,000 in extra funding and said all the budget shiftings in the past few months had resulted in the district “having all the teachers (funded) now in the operating budget, where they should be”
The pre-school program remains cut from the district budget, but a local fund-raising effort already has collected $10,000 and more is expected from various events this week. A 50/50 raffle was held at the Station Thursday night, and the Ray family is donating proceeds from ice cream and video sales at their businesses this Friday after 4 p.m.
“It should be a good program funded by the parents,” Thielbar said, adding that he has already contacted last year’s teacher, Kara Magnuson.
In other business on Tuesday night, the board approved two hirings. Becky Jensen is the new activities director. She was the unanimous choice of the hiring committee among three applicants who were interviewed. She replaces Josh Coughran, who left the district and is now a vice principal in Maryland. The board also hired Paul Kowal as the new maintenance technician, one of four applicants who were interviewed. He replaces Tanner Hanson, who also has moved away.
Theilbar said he is looking forward to school starting, as did teacher Denise Caposey who was in the audience.
The new superintendent said he would like to get started on a new School Improvement Plan with a community open house and meeting in mid-September. He said he would like to explore a shift toward a focus on preparing students for business, integrating several aspects of their course work and working with local businesses.
Cochran said he likes that approach, and he also noted that he had discussed with the borough manager and will propose that the assembly start the budget process with the school in January next year to give the district ample time to know the numbers from the municipality before its contract deadlines with staff.
“That will help a bunch,” Thielbar said.
New postmaster now in Skagway
USPS now looking to hire two more locally
By KATIE EMMETS
Donna McMullin will officially be Skagway’s postmaster and only permanent United States Post Office employee starting at the end of this month.
Contracted for two years from Aug 28, McMullin said she is both nervous and excited to take on this title for the first time.
“It’s a step up,” she said. “I know I’m going to be in the postal service for a while and I wanted to do something besides sort people’s mail.”
McMullin, 58, started in the United States Postal Service as a part-time mail-processing clerk during the 2000 holiday season and made the move from Soldotna to Skagway on July 25. For the next two weeks she will be shadowing temporary postmaster Allan Glore.
Despite the post office usually being “very, very busy,” McMullen said she thinks it runs smoothly.
“At this point, the people who have worked here have done their very best,” she said.
Before working for USPS, McMullin had been employed at Walmart, McDonalds, a mineral drilling company and a lumber mill. She is also a mother of three children in their late 20s to mid 30s but made the move to Skagway alone, leaving her family behind.
Skagway’s newest postal worker Donna McMullin sells stamps to tourists. She will officially start her job as postmaster at the end of August. Katie Emmets
Currently, there are three employees at Skagway’s post office including McMullin.
Under normal circumstances, Darus Macy, Manager of Post Office Operations, said she would hire two additional postal workers in the summer but admitted that it doesn’t always end up as planned with the competitive wages in Skagway.
“The salary is lower than other places in town at about $15 an hour,” she said.
All three current post office employees were already in the USPS system and two of them are only temporarily assigned to Skagway until their positions are permanently filled.
“We are not offering permanent positions to anyone who isn’t in the postal service already,” she said.
Macy said the USPS is currently on a hiring freeze, adding that the freeze allows those who get laid off within the company to transfer to a new post office for work. The freeze has lasted for about a year and Macy attributes it to the decline in first class mail volume. Since the amount of mail has weakened, there aren’t as many employees needed to count mail.
Macy said she understands that staffing the Skagway post office has been an issue during the busy tourist season, adding that the USPS is hardly getting any applicants with a want to transfer to Skagway.
“The last two who applied took a job somewhere else,” she said.
Because it has been difficult to staff Skagway’s post office, Macy said she will be looking to hire the two additional employees from the Skagway community.
On Aug. 8, a listing was posted to the USPS website for two temporary Skagway post office workers.
Although she said there has been no interest in employees who want to fill the two permanent positions, Macy said she doesn’t think it will be difficult to do.
“Skagway is a nice community,” she said. “Places like Barrow, Nome, and Sitka are all harder to fill than Skagway.”
Macy said the applicants for temporary positions don’t need any prior training but should be able to lift at least 70 lbs. Applicants will also undergo a background check and should not have any felonies.
The application can be found by clicking “careers” at the bottom of USPS.com. When the page loads, click “Search jobs online” on the right side. On the next page, Macy said she suggests only highlighting Alaska and not putting any further information into the search.
The application will be available online until Aug 18.
TABLE TALK GOVERNOR – Alaska Governor Sean Parnell crouches at a table to discuss issues with local residents Lizzie Carlson, Irene Henricksen and Kathy Moody during a campaign reception at the Chilkoot Outpost in Dyea on July 31. Jeff Brady
Gov. Parnell visits Skagway, residents thank him for lowering cruise tax
By KATIE EMMETS and JEFF BRADY
About 50 Skagway residents showed up at the White Pass & Yukon Route train station to greet Governor Sean Parnell on the afternoon of July 31. Many more attended an evening reception later at Chilkoot Trail Outpost in Dyea.
At the train station, some wanted a picture with him, some made campaign suggestions, and some, who were tourists, just wanted to eat the cheese and cookies after getting off the train, oblivious to the Governor of Alaska who was standing in the next room.
There were also a few who wanted to show him first-hand how the decisions he’s made have affected them.
Jan Wrentmore said she wanted to thank Parnell for the $48,000 grant she received from the Alaska Energy Authority to fund a hydro-electric study at her Burro Creek property. Burro Creek was once used as a hatchery, and Wrentmore applied for the grant in order to conduct a study to see if she was able to connect a hydro operation on the creek across the bay to the power grid in Skagway.
Wrentmore added that she always tries to meet all political candidates when they come to Skagway and thinks all residents should do the same.
“I think it’s important that people show up despite their political views so that both sides are represented,” she said.
July 30, the day before Parnell visited Skagway, marked the closure of the first open season for a potential natural gas pipeline that would get its supply from the North Slope.
As of now, there are three options, The Alaska Highway-Alberta option, which would most involve Skagway as a port for construction materials, the Valdez option, and a private sector option along the highway.
Unlike his challengers for the Republican candidacy, Ralph Samuels and Bill Walker, Parnell said he is open to all three options.
“Clearly I support bringing Alaska’s gas to Alaska’s market and beyond,” Parnell said.
This is the first time in Alaska history that private sectors were able to bid on the state’s gas, he said, adding that there are multiple shippers committed to the project.
“This is very positive news and will be another linchpin in Alaska’s economy,” he said.
Although he wasn’t caught up to speed on the TIGER II application or the Gateway Project concerning Skagway’s Ore Dock, Parnell’s Chief of Staff, Randy Ruaro, came to Skagway on July 30 in order to get information on what Skagway has in store for the dock.
Parnell said he would be meeting with him in the coming weeks to discuss findings and decide if he will be writing a letter of support for the application.
“The bottom line is, I do support bringing economic opportunity to Skagway,” Parnell said about supporting the TIGER II grant application.
Parnell said he visited Whitehorse this winter and spoke to Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie about the possible mining links that the grant could bring.
“We promised each other an open door on issues that mutually concern us,” he said, adding that they have a good working relationship.
Many residents who met Parnell at the station thanked him for his work in reducing the cruise ship head tax.
On July 27, 2009, the day after he was sworn into office, Parnell was bombarded “pretty heavily” by the drop in tourism - specifically cruise ship reductions.
Parnell attended Sea-trade Cruise Shipping Miami in March, and said more than half of the cruise companies were extremely negative towards Alaska.
“I wanted to change the investment climate in Alaska so we are viewed as a good state to bring tourism,” he said.
When cruise companies started threatening to take their business elsewhere, Parnell told them he was willing to support a head tax reduction if they were willing to bring their ships back.
Parnell introduced a bill in the Legislature that lowered the head tax from $46 to $34.50. It passed and he signed it into law on June 24. He said Alaska should be reaping the positive benefits of the bill by summer 2012.
Bruce Schindler, a carver in Skagway who sells his work in a private studio and in Kirmse’s Antiques, took some time to show Parnell a bookmark he made.
“I wanted to show him what he was a part of by leaving the welcome mat out for the cruise ships,” Schindler said. “Everyone sees the stores and the big players, but it seemed important to show him one of the little guys who was benefiting from the decisions he’s making.”
In a brief speech addressed to residents who showed up at at the rail depot to meet him, Parnell said he understands how important the tourism industry is to Skagway, as his parents owned a retail store in Anchorage when he was a child.
He told his audience how nice it was to get a tour of the municipality and that he was very excited to get to spend some time talking to them.
“Skagwegians rock!” he said.
Later at the Dyea reception, Parnell and his wife Sandy spoke more informally with residents, who enjoyed hot dogs, salads and various desserts. Owner Kathy Hosford said they served about 100.
Parnell spoke briefly about the gas line news and helped local musician Ashley Bowman lead the crowd in singing “Alaska’s Flag.”
Parnell was asked about education funding and if he supported any changes in the state formula, such as a proposal to lower an enrollment requirement for a better formula from 101 to 50 to give a boost to districts like Skagway that have recently dropped seen student counts drop below 100.
Parnell said he had not heard of such a proposal, and that it would be unlikely the formula would change soon. He said it was just recently retooled during the Palin administration, and the Legislature usually won’t touch it for a few years.
The key is growing the economy so there will be more students in the schools, he said.
Above right: Ashley Bowman sings “Alaska’s Flag” with the Parnells. Jeff Brady
Tiger II application to be submitted Aug. 23
$13.5 million request for ore dock renovations
By KATIE EMMETS
As the application stands, the Skagway Port Commission will be requesting $13.5 million from the federal government in the form of a TIGER II Grant.
If awarded, this money will buy Skagway’s Ore Dock a new ship loader, which will provide for complete utilization of the facility by allowing both a cruise ship and an ore ship to be docked at the same time.
Although, possibly the most important piece of the commission’s vision for the ore dock, the ship loader is only one of four renovations it plans to carry out with its Gateway Project. The others include rehabilitation, extending the ore shed and building a floating dock.
According to the application, the total cost for the Gateway Project is estimated at $41.6 million, and to ensure that Skagway has an edge for the grant, a local match of 20 percent of the project cost has been ensured.
After tabling approval of the application in July, the Skagway Borough Assembly on Aug. 5 they voted unanimously to pass 10-21R which states that the municipality will support a 20 percent match with funds other than federal funding. According to the TIGER II application, the municipality would be providing a $13.9 million match.
Currently, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority plans on contributing to the local match with the build-out of the mineral ore sheds at the terminal. This project is estimated to cost $12 million. Even if Skagway does not receive the grant, AIDEA will still consider this renovation, said Jim Hemsath, AIDEA deputy director of business development,
Originally, the commission and other concerned parties attempted to ask AIDEA to replace the ship loader for its portion of a potential local match. During the July 20 commission meeting, however, Hemsath said the current ship loader is efficient as is and added that AIDEA would not consider replacing it because there are no problems.
A local match in the form of a floating structure for better cruise passenger access will be added to the ore dock by White Pass &Yukon Route and is estimated to cost $2.2 million.
If Skagway is awarded the TIGER grant, the project is anticipated to begin in the spring of 2011 with demolition and sheet pile installation.
Skagway applied for a TIGER I grant in 2009 and asked for $111 million, said Port Commission chair John Trunroud. If it would have received the grant, he said the commission would have gone forth with all of the elements of the Gateway Project plus a total rebuild of the south cruise ship berth.
The application must be submitted to the United States Department of Transportation by 5 p.m. on Aug 23.
After lobbying for the grant application in Washington D.C. with Borough Manager Tom Smith, Mayor Tom Cochran and lobbyist John Walsh, Tronrud said they decided to lower the amount they were asking for from $20 million to $13.5 million.
With the TIGER II grant, the maximum amount that could be received is $20 million.
“The chance of getting that much is very remote and we will try to get funding elsewhere,” Tronrud said. “No one likes to give money away, but they might contribute if they can see a benefit from the project.”
Tronrud expects to receive several letters of support including those from all three Alaska Congressional delegates – Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Representative Don Young – as well as White Pass and Yukon Route and AIDEA. Tronrud added that he hopes Alaska Governor Sean Parnell will pitch in with the application by writing a letter as well.
SPECIAL FEATURE: Father and son on the Chilkoot: Trail power to the 10th (read part 1 in our Aug. 13 issue, part 2 coming in Aug. 27 print edition with entire feature posted online the following week)
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Incumbents file for reelection
All three incumbents for seats up in the October municipal election have filed their candidate papers.
Assemblymember Mark Schaefer was the first to file last week, and fellow member Paul Reichert filed this past Monday. Neither returned calls by this issue’s deadline for comment on why they chose to run again. Both are up for three-year terms. Schaefer is vying for his second full term on the assembly, and Reichert was elected to a one-year term last fall.
School Board member Darren Belisle said he filed for reelection on Tuesday. If elected, it will be his third full term on the board.
“I’m excited to work with the new superintendent and expect good things in the next couple of years,” Belisle said in a brief interview after this week’s special board meeting.
Prospective candidates have until 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 16 to file their candidate papers at City Hall to get on the Oct. 5 ballot. - JB
Update: Former assemblyman Mike Korsmo was the only other candidate to file by the Aug. 16 deadline. He will challenge the incumbents for one of the two 3-year assembly seats. Read update in Aug. 27 issue.
Municipality amends SMART Bus contract
At its August 5 meeting, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution amending the routes and adding stops to the SMART contract. While some routes will remain the same, changes are being made to some for safety and to improve ease of locating buses, said Stuart Brown, SMART Bus owner.
For example, the current bus stop at the intersection of 5th and Broadway creates a danger for drivers, so the new stop has been moved toward the alley between 5th and 6th — alleviating the hazard. Changes have also been made to improve consistency of bus stop locations. Now, bus stops will be located at all odd streets off of Broadway.
The Public Works and Public Safety committees, led respectively by Dave Hunz and Mark Schaefer, decided on the final route changes, in addition to amending one-hour parking locations, bus loading zones and parking restrictions. – GN
Feasibility study in West Creek, grant application for Wastewater Treatment
The assembly passed a resolution to support a feasibility study that will determine if hydro-electricity can be generated from West Creek. The municipality will now submit a Renewable Energy Fund grant application to the Alaska Energy Authority to secure funding. By passing this resolution, the Municipality of Skagway will be contributing $59,000 from its 2011 fiscal year budget to serve as the required match for the grant, if it is awarded.
Mayor Tom Cochran said the study has come up in several public meetings and support for it has been a little over half of the community. Cochran added that by passing this resolution, the assembly is only approving to submit the grant, not to build in the West Creek area. The grant application is due on Sept. 15.
The assembly also passed a resolution to support a grant application to the Environmental Protection Agency for about $300,000, which will go towards updating the Wastewater Treatment Plant to comply with the EPA standards. The municipality has already secured funding from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for the renovations. – KE
New goals for Skagway municipality, assembly
The assembly continues to define and update its list of goals for the city from the last list that was adopted in 1996.
Some of the most pressing matters on the 26-item list of goals include pursuing a “Port Improvement and Development Plan,” including harbor expansion options and the potential purchase of the Ore Terminal from Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA).
Other important items included procuring resources and medical equipment to house and care for seniors, in addition to lobbying to the state for monies to improve the ferry terminal, Dyea Road and State Street.
The mayor suggested that the assembly go over the list of goals every quarter to “keep us on the ball, so to speak,” he said. – GN
Weidner gives notice to cancel Pullen RV lease
After ten years of operating the waterfront campground, Craig Weidner has turned in a formal letter requesting to cancel his Pullen Creek RV Park lease due to health reasons. The lease will end in 120 days. Weidner spoke to the assembly at the August 5 meeting and expressed hope that it will stay an RV park. Although he wanted a chance to choose who will follow him in the lease, Mayor Tom Cochran said the lease would to be put up for bidding. – KE