September 10, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 16
Market Movers and Shakers
Six-month-old Madeline Kelly helps her mom, Tina, right, lay out beads at the Skagway Farmer’s Market next to the Skagway Fire Hall on Labor Day Weekend. The event drew several vendors, musicians and buyers who came to appreciate things grown and made in Skagway. See more story and more photos in our special Garden City Feature.
Photo by Jeff Brady
State delays Taiya River bridge project
Spring project likely, road improvements also delayed
By JEFF BRADY
The rehabilitation of Taiya River Bridge in Dyea will not happen this fall as originally planned. The project has been moved to a spring schedule, confirmed project manager Chuck Tripp of Alaska DOT.
“We were originally hoping to have it constructed this fall, but with the work load here in the office, we are probably looking at more like a spring construction,” Tripp said in a phone interview from Juneau last week.
According to the DOT website, which lists all projects currently being developed, the state is now anticipating advertising for bids on the project in January 2011. It previously had been scheduled to be advertised last April in advance of a fall project.
Tripp said DOT is still working on the design but plans to have the bids out this winter so construction can occur in the spring before the tourist season begins.
He said there would likely be one more public meeting this fall to go over how the public will be able to access Dyea during the construction.
“We definitely want to have another public meeting and touch base with folks that would be impacted and how it would work,” Tripp said. “It’s something we would want to do before we pull the trigger on this thing.”
Suggestions made during a meeting last winter have been incorporated into a tentative plan to have personal vehicles park on the east (town) side of the bridge, and a shuttle vehicle staged on the west (Dyea) side for getting people to their homes. A fire truck also would be staged on the west side.
Tripp said they would leave it up to the contractor to decide the best way for getting pedestrians across the old bridge while work is being done on it. He mentioned the possibility of a gangway.
“We’ll leave it up to the contractor’s ingenuity on how to make it work,” he said.
The engineer’s estimate on the bridge repair is $1 million to $2.5 million. The old 1948 bridge made the federal watch list a few years ago, and was derated to a 5-ton load limit in 2008.
Tripp said it would have been too expensive for the state to use the old Skagway River footbridge across the Taiya for access, as it was too short and would have required permitting for construction of an abutment in the river.
Many people, including members of the Skagway Borough Assembly, were anticipating the bridge closing this fall and the repair work being completed. They were in the process of making land available up West Creek for woodcutting this month before the bridge closed.
“That’s disappointing,” said Mayor Tom Cochran, upon hearing the news.
The other Skagway project on the state’s active list also has experienced delays. The Dyea Road widening project on the last hill at about Mile 6 previously had been slated for a June 2010 bid solicitation date, but now has moved to a March 2011 advertising schedule, according to DOT’s website.
That could mean the project will be constructed in the fall of 2011, but project manager Chad Howard of DOT was out of the office this week and could not confirm. That project has an engineer’s estimate of between $2.5 million and $5 million.
In the meantime, the assembly is going ahead with a plan for helping firewood cutters up West Creek this fall. After a recent flyover of the area, assemblymen Paul Reichert and Dave Hunz recommended first looking at a stand of dead trees in an area south of the new West Creek footbridge. Those trees, which are between the main road and the creek, may be easier for firewood cutters to access than a network of old logging roads northwest of the footbridge, they noted. No cutting would be allowed across the footbridge until a trails system is developed under a new West Creek Plan.
Cruise West line sold
Details forthcoming on buyer and whether small ships will continue to call on Skagway next season
By JEFF BRADY
The small cruise ship line Cruise West was sold this week, according to various media reports, but as of the News’ Wednesday deadline, the buyer had not been identified and bookings had been halted.
In an e-mail to the News on Wednesday, Cruise West spokesperson Kim Leaming said they were working on a press announcement for release on Thursday, but after this issue headed to the printer. After the announcement is made available, the News will provide a link on its website with this story.
The small line of ships, founded by the late Alaska tourism pioneer Chuck West and carried on by his son Dick West, apparently has fallen on some tough financial times in the sagging economy.
Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said he was not surprised by the news this week.
“A lot of tour operators were on a cash only basis with them,” he said. “They’ve been facing a lot of marketing and fiscal challenges of late.”
Especially nervous right now are the operators who are still owed money by the line, which just finished its Alaska season. The final Cruise West ship to call on Skagway this summer was the Spirit of Yorktown last Sunday.
On Tuesday morning, when the Seattle Times broke the news, a recorded message at the company’s offices said, “We're in the process of restructuring the company with new owners. As part of this process, we have suspended all new bookings, and our reservations center is temporarily closed.”
A customer sent an e-mail to the Times, saying that her 335-night world voyage on the Spirit of Oceanus had been cut short, the ship had been sold, and all the passengers were being put ashore at St. John’s Newfoundland. Another report said the world voyage, which began in March and was due to end in February, was the only itinerary affected by the sale.
It’s unclear how the sale will impact the company’s traditional operations in Alaska, where it ran four vessels ranging in size from 78 to 138 passengers this season. In Skagway, a total of about 2,800 passengers arrived on 31 calls this summer – 1,900 of those were on one ship, the 84-passenger Spirit of Discovery.
But the 2010 total is far below the line’s peak years in the middle of the last decade, when it brought about 7,500-9,500 passengers to Skagway during 70-80 port calls a year, and on seven different vessels. Three of them would sometimes bring more than 2,000 passengers each over the course of a summer.
After the recession hit, the Alaska numbers dropped sharply in 2009, when the flagship Spirit of ’98 and other vessels were shifted from Alaska to other destinations where the line had expanded: Columbia River, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Europe, the Mississippi River, and the round-the-world cruise.
Cruise West has always pitched its intimate cruising style, compared with the much bigger lines, but the cost of a cruise on its small ships typically was three or four times that of the cost on big liners coming to Alaska. And in a rough economy with sometimes heavy discounting needed to fill ships, they had to cut back on their premier Alaska offerings, and find more operating capital to sustain the business.
In July, several cruise news sites reported that Dick West had secured a $1.5 million personal loan to help the company and was seeking more financing from investment bankers. But the company remained upbeat about its future, citing an increase in revenues this year. It may have been just enough to entice a buyer.
AFRICAN AMBASSADORS – The African Children’s Choir entertained and inspired three big Skagway audiences last weekend with singing, dancing and stories from 25 years of performing worldwide. See more photos with Artsbeat on page 7 of our print edition. - Jeff Brady
Boudreau leaving Klondike park to become Glacier Bay superintendent
By JEFF BRADY
Susan Boudreau will be leaving her position as superintendent of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park on Oct. 24, when she will move back to Gustavus to become head of Glacier Bay National Park.
Boudreau came to Skagway three years ago as the Skagway-based park’s sixth superintendent and its first female leader. Previously she had been chief of natural and cultural resources at Glacier Bay, and had built a home in nearby Gustavus.
During an interview in her Skagway office this week, Boudreau said she had not planned to go back to Gustavus until she retired, but the Glacier Bay job opened “two years too soon” with the recent retirement there of Superintendent Cherry Payne.
“So it’s home,” she said. “There’s no other place I wanted to go and it was the only park I would have applied for. I love Skagway and Southeast, so it was a very hard decision.”
Boudreau said Skagway touched her soon after she arrived.
“After my first week, I felt like I had been here a year or two,” she said. “I so enjoyed meeting people.”
Several things impressed her about Skagway, she said, notably the hard workers who sometimes hold down two or three jobs in a summer but are still dedicated to good service, and the kids of the community.
She said children here have a healthy and educational environment for growing up, and she recently enjoyed seeing them all return to the Skagway Rec. Center for after-school programs.
“Skagway’s a nice community,” she said. “I’m a Gustavus person, but I’ll be back. I’m planning to be back for Yuletide. That’s my favorite time here.”
While superintendent at Klondike, Boudreau saw the Rapuzzi Collection change hands from private ownership to a project that is now managed by the National Park Service and the municipality. Work has begun on the park’s buildings, and she is looking forward to seeing Soapy Smith’s Parlor reopen in 2016.
“It is a significant and great asset for summer visitors and our locals,” she said.
Another thing she worked on was establishing the park’s relevance here and how it relates to the community, “how we weave together.” She cited joint work on various projects, including the Klondike Road Relay this weekend. After the Taiya River bridge is repaired, she said, the park will be more active in the maintenance of the road out to Dyea Flats with purchases of gravel and equipment.
She said they have been able to hire a lot of local students over the years, and a few parents to permanent full-time positions, “which has been just great.”
The number of employees at the park this summer topped 78, she said, compared with 62 in 2009 and 50 in 2008. There also have been a number of volunteers, interns and students.
She said she also is proud of the incredible amount of work that goes into restoring and maintaining buildings, and on the Chilkoot Trail. In her office is a rock-smashing box given to her by the trail crew after she spent a week up on the trail with them. This week, Boudreau was planning to join the crew in town for the pouring of the new concrete foundation at the old Y on State Street.
Boudreau said that her successor will find a “great team of folks” in place at the Klondike park. “It’s a great crew and I like hanging out with them.”
She also said she will miss Skagway.
“I will miss you guys,” she said. “I’d like to thank the staff of Klondike, all the businesses, and the local community that supports the park. I learned a lot about being a leader here, and I hope I’m a better leader because of this staff.”
She closed by saying Gustavus will be easier to get to soon with a new dock and the arrival of ferry service this winter, and more frequent service planned for next summer. “It won’t cost as much for Skagway folks to get there,” she said.
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Settlement offer forwarded to wave barrier contractor
After a 50-minute executive session at its Sept. 2 meeting, the Skagway Borough Assembly voted 4-0 to offer Pacific Pile and Marine a $170,000 settlement on the wave barrier project.
PP&M had requested $350,000 for additional costs associated with a delay in the start-up of the project last fall. The assembly has held three executive sessions on the topic in the past couple of months.
During the latest session, Mayor Tom Cochran and assembly members conferred via teleconference with municipal attorney Bob Blasco and Henry Spieker of the construction management firm, Hainline and Associates of Seattle. Spieker was brought in as a consultant on the issue.
The mayor would offer no details, other than they wanted to settle the claim.
Members Dave Hunz, Dan Henry, Mark Schaefer, and Paul Reichert voted to approve the settlement offer. Colette Hisman and Tim Cochran were excused from the Sept. 2 meeting.
Port update: Stewart still in picture for Selwyn
Mayor Tom Cochran reported on a recent meeting in Whitehorse with Selwyn Resources President Harlan Meade, which he attended with WP&YR president Eugene Hretzay.
The mayor cautioned that Stewart, BC is still a port option being considered by Selwyn, in spite of recent talk about Skagway during a public teleconference in which Meade announced Selwyn’s $100 million partnership with the Chinese mining conglomerate Chihong Zing and Germanium.
Cochran said Selwyn asked for a complete list of port costs, and asked if it would be okay to ship lead into the United States.
“I don’t think lead is an issue, as long as it is done correctly,” Cochran said, noting the existence of the Red Dog lead-zinc mine in Northwest Alaska.
But he said Selwyn would like something in writing.
Cochran noted that the Alaska Resource Development Council will be hosting a dinner in Skagway the night of Sept. 10, which he plans to attend. And he also will meet the president of Capstone Resources when he comes to town on Sept. 20. Capstone currently ships copper to the Skagway Ore Terminal. The municipality also is planning to make a presentation to the Alaska Regional Port Conference on Nov. 18 in Anchorage.
The mayor also said he spoke with John Katz, the governor’s director of state-federal relations, who advised Skagway should write a letter requesting $10 million in port funds in the next state budget. He said the letter should focus on the part of the proposed Gateway Project that deals with expanding the ore dock so it may handle two large cruise ships.
The borough’s recent TIGER II federal grant submission focused on securing funds for a new ore ship loader that would be able to be used on an expanded dock, allowing a large cruise ship and an ore ship to be docked at the same time.
Such requests to the state are usually submitted closer to the start of the legislative session, but getting the letter in now may land the funds in the governor’s budget that goes to the legislature very early in the session, the mayor said.
ARCS options explored
As of Sept. 1, about 15 residents had notified City Hall that they would like the municipality to continue making available the free ARCS channel 13 from the state. The large ARCS satellite dish is in the way of the expansion project at the wastewater treatment plant, and an initial estimated cost of moving the dish and placing it on a new concrete pad was $60,000.
Resident Dimitra Lavrakas questioned that figure during the public comment period at the Sept. 2 meeting, saying she had spoken to someone in Barrow who said the dishes can be put on skids and moved to different locations. Lavrakas said the channel is valuable, especially to those who do not have cable or Dish Network satellite service.
John Harris echoed this, noting that so-called local Alaskan channels are not available to most Dish Network customers.
“(ARCS) is really an Alaska channel,” he said. “It has public education for the kids. I think it is a good thing for the community.”
Borough Manager Tom Smith said the assembly has time to explore options, since the treatment plant project is not going out to bid until October.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz suggested contacting the cable company from Haines first to see if they could put it on their property on Alaska Street as a possible exchange for a credit on their right of way fees. If that is not possible, then the municipality could look at moving the dish up to the cell phone tower location on lower AB Mountain, where there is space available near those buildings, he said.
In the meantime, the borough is still soliciting input on whether to keep the ARCS channel. Users of the service are asked to call 983-2297. – JB
Unexpected visit by ship during Hoonah standoff
Passengers off the Radiance of the Seas visited Skagway two days early on Monday Aug. 30 after the Coast Guard closed the port of Hoonah during a standoff with a man who allegedly shot and killed two of the town’s police officers Anthony Wallace and Matthew Tokuoka. Passengers said they were told of the change in itinerary on Sunday night. The standoff was resolved with the arrest of suspect John Marvin, Jr. on the 30th, and the ship was able to get into Hoonah on Sept. 1, the day it originally was due in Skagway. The ambush of the two officers in the small Southeast town with a population close to that of Skagway, has struck at the hearts of Alaskans. SPD sent Sgt. Ken Cox to Hoonah for the funeral on Sept. 8, and the borough assembly voted to donate $2,500 to the families of the slain officers. The Alaska Marine Highway diverted the Malaspina to Hoonah for the day to handle the influx of those paying their respects, and the U.S. Honor Flag also accompanied the caskets of the two officers. The flag flew during the recovery of bodies from the 9/11 attacks at Ground Zero in New York City, and is sent to various places in the country to honor fallen officers. Charles Collins, the U.S. Customs officer who lost his life when the Taylor Highway flooded near Eagle this summer, also was honored when the flag first arrived in Anchorage last week, along with former Sen. Ted Stevens and military personnel who died in plane crashes in Alaska this summer. See our photo tribute to 'Uncle Ted' in obituaries.
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
School opens with 91 students
The school year began with 91 students enrolled at the end of August, but about 15 are expected to depart by the end of the tourist season, said Superintendent Jeff Thielbar at the Aug. 31 school board meeting.
That will leave Skagway with about 75 students enrolled during the October count period.
Board member Stuart Brown, noting that the education commissioner had earlier this summer denied Skagway’s request for a count period waiver, said the number of seasonal students was higher than the “handful” cited by the commissioner.
“Fifteen is not a handful,” Brown said.
Skagway had sought to have the state’s count period moved from October to September to reflect the town’s seasonal influx. The community had been successful in the past getting a waiver, but not this year.
Parent Lisa Hollander said she spoke to Alaska Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux in Juneau this summer at the annual Governor’s Picnic.
When she told him she was from Skagway, she said that he told her, ‘“I want you to know we want to give you money, but the data didn’t support it.’”
Board members said the number of seasonals was higher this year, and Thielbar said it may be worth trying for a waiver next year.
He did note that about $100 per student in federal grant dollars could be coming to Skagway through the state, if the governor accepts the money. But Thielbar said it would be “one time funding” and not something that should be used to increase staffing.
Six foreign exchange students are enrolled this year, which has helped offset the loss of some high school age students.
Board member Joanne Korsmo, who is hosting one of the students, said three are from Germany, two from Italy, and one from Norway.
“They are intelligent, exciting additions to our school,” she said.
Korsmo said the board and community need to look at other ideas for increasing enrollment, such as the prospect of a boarding school.
“We need to market ourselves,” she said.
Report card released, handbook reviewed
The district’s annual Report Card for the 2009-10 school year has been released. Skagway maintained its Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) status with 97 percent of all students testing at proficient or advanced levels in reading and writing, and 92-94 percent testing at proficient or advanced levels in science and mathematics.
Here’s the breakdown:
Reading – 69.8 percent advanced, 27.9 percent proficient, 2.3 percent below, 0 far below.
Writing – 43.2 percent advanced, 54.5 percent proficient, 2.3 percent below, 0 percent far below.
Math – 56.8 percent advanced, 38.6 percent proficient, 2.3 percent below, 2.3 percent far below.
Science – 85.7 percent advanced, 7.1 percent proficient, 7.1 percent below, 0 far below.
Most grades improved their proficiency over last year, according to graphs in the report card. Copies are available at the school and will be up on the district website soon.
Thielbar spent several minutes at the Aug. 31 meeting going over proposed changes in the student handbook.
The board agreed with his approach to have students make up work during unexcused absences, and receiving half credit.
“I take issue with zeroes,” Thielbar said. “I prefer they do the work.”
He also said he “cleaned up” the discipline section to make it consistent with a list of options and consequences for various behaviors.
“Above all, I want to be fair,” he said, and if there is ever a need for a student to be suspended for a few days, then he also would send him/her home with work to do.
Where the board took some issue with the new superintendent was in proposed changes to the dress code. Stuart Brown said the suggested restriction of having skirts no higher than three inches above the knee reminded him of the 1970s.
“Our job is to teach them and let them be kids,” he said.
Joanne Korsmo said some of the restrictions needed to be relaxed, but agreed with the current restriction on cell phones. Kids may have them, but they can only be turned on during lunch after going through the line, and before and after school.
There was a discussion about how much underwear can be showing – OK for bra straps that can be tucked under straps, not OK for boys pulling up their underwear above jeans. Thielbar said the student body understood most of it, and he doesn’t plan on having to “walk down the hallway with a tape measure.”
During dances, however, he may have to be more of an “Elvis Nazi” to keep kids from “freaking,” he said.
School Improvement Night scheduled
The district will hold a School Improvement Night on Monday, Sept. 20 to coincide with its annual open house. Chili and corn bread will be served starting at 6 p.m. and the community will be invited to share their ideas on how to make the school better in a discusson scheduled to go until 8:30 p.m.
At the Aug. 31 board meeting, Superintendent Thielbar said he was instituting a “professional collaborative day” once a month, where teachers will be able to take half of a “minimum day” to get together on teaching thematic units.
Science teacher Cory Thole said it was a great idea that teachers experimented with last year. He cited how he was able to work with the math teacher on how scheduling the teaching of certain equations would tie into something being applied in the science classroom.
Thielbar said he also would like to see a weighted grade scale be allowed for Advance Placement courses only, but starting with next year’s freshmen. About a dozen students are taking distance education courses this fall. – JB