September 11, 2009 • Vol. XXXII, No. 16
Don't Mess with Mink
This mink has been enjoying some tasty pink salmon leftovers from his friends, the seals, on the rocks by the Broadway Dock this month. Don’t be fooled by his cute, slimy beard; he will defend his catch. Andrew Cremata
Crystal Cruises announces return to Alaska in 2011
Welcome news for Skagway as 2010 draft schedule shows drop of 83,025 cruisers
By JEFF BRADY
Crystal Cruises bucked a trend last week by announcing it was returning a ship to Alaska in 2011with nine stops in Skagway.
The high-end cruise line will be bringing the 1,492-passenger Crystal Symphony to Alaska on 12-day cruises from San Francisco.
The line pulled out of Alaska in 2005, when there were seven voyages of the 960-passenger Crystal Harmony.
In addition to calling on Skagway, the Crystal Symphony will visit Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska, and the Canadian ports of Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
If every Crystal ship is at capacity, Skagway will see an additional 13,428 cruise visitors in 2011.
“This bodes well for the future of cruising in Alaska,” said Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue.
On its website, Crystal bills itself as the “luxury specialist” and led its press release with the announcement of its return to Alaska and West Africa, part of the 58 cruises visiting 163 ports in 67 countries.
“Given the great number of Crystal Society members from all over the world, we’re mixing it up more than ever in 2011,” said Gregg Michel, president of Crystal Cruises, in a statement. “In addition to our very exotic voyages in destinations like Africa, India and the Middle East, we’re also greatly increasing our presence in North America with a greater selection of domestic cruises. While destination and reputation are the leading vacation drivers, we also know that many of our guests relish the Crystal resort experience combined with the convenience of closer-to-home itineraries.”
The welcome news about 2011 comes after announcements earlier this year by Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines that they would each pull a ship from the Alaska market in 2010. Skagway however gained the Holland America ship Amsterdam in a shifting of that line’s itineraries that cut out more northerly destinations. Skagway also picked up an additional Celebrity ship, the Infinity, for 19 calls next year.
Unlike some destinations which are losing 140,000 cruise visitors next season, Skagway’s total will drop by about 83,000 – from 747,924 to 664,899, according to figures from Cruise Line Agencies and the Skagway CVB.
A preliminary cruise schedule for next summer shows the following:
• Tuesdays and Wednesdays are still the big days with four big ships in port from mid-May to mid-September.
• Mondays and Thursdays will be lighter. Monday will see two ships most weeks, and sometimes three. Thursday, which has been a four-ship-day the last few years, in 2010 will see three ships.
• Fridays will be busier. The Carnival Spirit is moving from Sundays to Fridays, and the Amsterdam will be in port every other Friday.
• Weekends will remain light. Saturdays will see the Volendam and sometimes the Sea Princess and smaller Silver Shadow. Sundays will be just as light – in fact there are no ships on Sunday until June. The Seven Seas Navigator will then call on Sundays from June 6 to Sept. 12. There are a couple of Sundays with the Sea Princess and smaller Silver Shadow.
The final 2010 schedule will be available in March on the Skagway CVB website and in a supplement inserted in the News.
No wintertime teleconferencing for assembly
Members may consider more restrictive ordinance
By JEFF BRADY
Dennis Corrington made good on his promise to introduce an ordinance that would allow teleconferencing for assembly members, but it won no support from the rest of the Skagway Borough Assembly last week.
Mayor Tom Cochran and other assembly members on Sept. 3 objected to the “winter only” aspect of the proposed ordinance, but said they would consider introduction of a more restrictive ordinance in the future.
Municipal code currently prohibits attendance by members via teleconference at regular and special meetings. Ordinance 09-14 would have permitted attendance and participation during the six winter months of October through March, with the stipulation that their salaries would be waived when attending by teleconference.
Corrington and Municipal Clerk Marj Harris compiled a selection of ordinances from several communities that allow attendance by teleconference. Corrington said 12 of the 15 communities that responded to their queries allowed it in some form.
He said the assembly needs to “open up” and embrace the technology by making themselves available to participate in meetings when they cannot be in town.
“It’s an opportunity for you to add input (at all meetings) that your constituents ask of you,” he said.
Corrington added that the ordinance was not “self-serving,” as he was not running for election this fall. Corrington, who lives here about eight months out of the year, was appointed to the assembly in June to fill out a term vacated by the resignation of L.C. Cassidy. His term ends when the seat is up for election Oct. 6.
John Harris was the only audience member to comment on the ordinance. He said there has been a problem with attendance, but with some legitimate reasons why meetings were missed. But he said members have an obligation to make as many meetings as they can, and they should be encouraged to attend. The ordinance, he said, encourages them not to attend in the wintertime.
“If you can’t make it, maybe you shouldn’t be on the assembly,” he said.
Mike Korsmo, who was targeted in an Aug. 28 Guest Commentary in the News by Nancy Corrington, led off the assembly discussion with a rebuttal to points in the commentary. He said a lot of hard work goes into being an assembly member, from attending work sessions and spending time at City Hall, as well as attending regular meetings. He said family illnesses kept him away from meetings part of one year, and then last year work took him away much of the wintertime. At one point, he said, he offered to resign, but the mayor encouraged him to stay on. However, acknowledging that he may miss more meetings this winter due to his tug boat job, he decided not to run for re-election.
As to the ordinance on the table, he said it is “not the answer. It needs a lot of feathering out.”
Mark Schaefer said he could not remember when there had not been a quorum at assembly meetings, even in winter.
“People miss meetings, but they are involved in what is going on,” he said, agreeing with John Harris’s point that the ordinance “gives you an incentive not to be here.”
Dave Hunz, another assembly member who has missed several meetings – including one time when he was stuck in Juneau waiting for weather to lift – said he tries to schedule his travel around the first and third Thursdays so he can make meetings, but it doesn’t always work out. He initially said he would support the ordinance on first reading, but wanted to see language added that teleconferencing would only be allowed under special circumstances like family or weather-related issues.
Colette Hisman said she had heard from a number of people who feel “it is not in the best interests of the citizens of Skagway for us to allow it.” She said she would not mind an ordinance that allowed a member to listen in during a meeting, but having them attend and vote via teleconference “could open the door to places I don’t want to go.”
Dan Henry said the sampling from other communities was not convincing enough, disputing the assertion that there was a trend in Alaska toward allowing attendance by teleconference. He said he would be willing to look at an ordinance where the mayor could allow teleconferencing in special cases, but said it should only be allowed to members who are registered voters and eligible for the permanent fund dividend.
“(Assembly members) should be citizens of our town and our state,” Henry said. “Personally, I think if you pick your mail up here in February, you’re okay. I feel the citizens of Skagway want someone who is a part of, and involved in… all facets of the community.”
Mayor Cochran said he valued points on both sides of the issue and had mixed feelings, but he said the ordinance, in its current form, is “doomed to failure.”
However, he said it was frustrating last winter to have several consecutive meetings with just four members in attendance.
“It delays actions and the business of the municipality,” he said.
Cochran said a lot of the attendance issues could be corrected with enforcement of excused absences. “The assembly should ask permission to be absent,” he said.
Teleconferencing would be worth a try, he continued, but he feared a “slippery slope” the way the ordinance was presented. “The way this is written, you could miss six months of meetings.”
He added that he values the input of citizens who have had summer businesses for 30-40 years. “They have a lot to offer our community, but I don’t want to offer it up without rules,” he said.
Cochran said he liked one town’s ordinance, which set a limit for the times a member could attend via teleconferencing. Cochran said he would favor no more than three or four a year, and no more than two consecutively.
He then asked if the assembly should table the ordinance for more work. Hunz agreed with that approach, but Korsmo and Henry said they would rather kill it and see a more comprehensive ordinance presented at first reading.
Cochran then said he would like to see a work session in the future to draft a new ordinance. “It needs a lot more meat to it,” he concluded.
When the vote was taken, it failed 5-1, with Corrington casting the lone vote supporting it.
‘Passport Fair’ Sat. in Skagway; Sen. Begich, State Dept. make it happen
In an effort to ease the time-consuming and expensive process of getting a passport in the communities of Haines and Skagway, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich recently announced special “passport fairs” have been arranged in the communities.
· The Skagway Passport Fair is Saturday, Sept. 12 from 9 am – 5 pm at the Skagway Assembly Chambers in City Hall.
· The Haines Passport Fair is Sunday, Sept. 13 from 9 am – 5 pm at the Haines Assembly Chambers.
“This is a unique opportunity to bring government directly to help the people,” Sen. Begich said in a press release. “I commend and thank the staff at the Department of State Seattle Passport Office for responding to the needs of the citizens in Haines and Skagway.”
As of June 1, 2009, the law changed requiring U.S. citizens to present a passport book, card or other approved travel documents to enter the United States from Canada. As the deadline approached, this presented a problem for residents in Haines and Skagway without passports, as roads to their communities run through Canada.
Since the Skagway Magistrate’s Office stopped processing passports in June 2008, the nearest passport acceptance office has been in Juneau, which is a time-consuming and expensive trip, especially for a family.
Shortly after taking office in January, Sen. Begich’s office began hearing of the concerns of Alaskans in these Southeast communities and began working with the U.S. Department of State to establish passport acceptance offices in each community, but in the meantime, offer a passport fair for residents to apply for passports. Plans for a new acceptance office at the Skagway Police Dept. are still being finalized.
Applicants can download an application from www.travel.state.gov
Applicants should come to the fair with a completed passport application form, evidence of U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate, photo identification with a photocopy of the id, check or money order payment to the U.S. Department of State, and two identical passport photos.
The passport photographer business in each town was notified, and applicants were encouraged last week to make appointments for their photos as soon as possible.
“Because Haines and Skagway are border towns where residents have to cross through Canada to drive out, having a passport is essential. With these fairs in the communities, the residents won’t have to get to Juneau to have their paperwork processed,” Begich said.
Applicants with questions can call Sen. Begich’s Juneau office at (907) 586-7700.
Skagway is still king of egg-tossing world
An attempt on Aug. 30 by the Charleston, S.C Fun Club to break the Guinness World Record for people tossing eggs fell way short of the official 1,162 set in Skagway on July 4, 2008.
Billed as a fund-raiser for a local children’s hospital, the Fun Club attempted to beat Skagway’s record with a big crowd before the start of a minor league baseball game. They drummed it up all over Charleston media the prior week.
“The current record stands at 1162 (according to Guinness) and was set on the 4th of July 2008 from a town called Skagway in Alaska. Not only is this a great way to raise money for MUSC Children’s Hospital, but could also place Charleston SC in the Guinness Book of World Records. Turnout is key, needing 1163 people on the field by 3:00 is a large task,” said one press release.
But when the day came, not enough came to toss.
According to various Charleston websites, more than 5,000 people were at the game between the Charleson RiverDogs and the Augusta Greenjackets, but the pre-game festivities drew only “several hundred” fans who paid to come down on the field and toss eggs. They even brought in observers from the GWR.
“Although the attempt to break the world record was unsuccessful, those who participated had fun and established a RiverDogs mark,” said the team’s official site. They also raised a lot of money for the hospital.
Photos of the attempt can be seen at Hobnobcharleston.com, with a link to a gallery on YouTube.
The news was greeted with relief in Skagway.
“We’re disappointed that the people organizing the fund-raiser for the children’s hospital did not meet their goal,” said Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue, who organized the successful 2008 record-breaking event here. “On the other hand, we are extremely pleased that they failed in their attempt to break our record.”
Skagway Fire Dept. reorganization tentatively approved
The Borough Assembly on Sept. 3 voted unanimously to endorse a “Proposal B” for reorganization of the Skagway Fire Dept. that came out of a pair of recent Public Safety Committee meetings.
The proposal differs from a Proposal A approved by the department at a business meeting earlier this summer, but the new Proposal B is “not that far away” from what volunteer firefighters endorsed, said interim fire chief Wayne Greenstreet.
Neither proposal goes back to the paid fire chief of the past few years.
Proposal B sets up a structure with a board of advisors and an elected volunteer fire chief overseeing the department. Under them would be volunteer deputy/assistant chiefs, and a paid emergency services administrator. The administrator would be in charge of the three other paid positions: maintenance supervisor, maintenance/training officer, and maintenance/clerical assistant.
Proposal A would have had the same board of advisors and volunteer chief on top, but with an administrative assistant on the same level as the other paid positions.
“I don’t see a lot of difference in how things are running at this time,” Greenstreet said, adding that either proposal has built-in checks and balances.
Firefighters Shelly Moss and Matt O’Boyle endorsed Proposal B at the assembly meeting, and Public Safety chair Mark Schaefer said it had the support of other members of the department. However, Greenstreet noted in a letter that the department was still on record in support of Proposal A.
Borough Manager Tom Smith suggested that the assembly’s support of Proposal B be contingent on another vote by the fire department. That vote by SFD members will take place on Sept. 15.
If approved, the Board of Advisors will have the fire chief as chair, with three appointed captains or lieutenants and three non-officers selected by the membership. It will advise the chief on training, response and daily operations, and also has the authority to resolve interdepartmental disputes.
Schaefer said he would like to see one citizen outside the department be on the board. Mike Korsmo wanted to see a fiscal note attached to each proposal, and the endorsement of Proposal B passed contingent on the fiscal note and a vote of support from the fire department.
Mayor Tom Cochran thanked the fire department for a great job, noting that they have responded to a lot of calls. He said they have a good system in place to cover emergencies when the volunteer chief is not available. Skagway has been without a full-time chief since Mark Kirko’s departure in March.
“I’d like to thank the assembly for all the work they’ve done,” Greenstreet replied. – JB
Brad Thoe, with wife Courtney and dachshund Dolly, stand outside their garage at the end of State Street. To date, Thoe has placed 2,960 birch sticks on the building. Jeff Brady
Brad Thoe’s creation turns heads at entry to ‘Skagua, Home of the North Wind’
Brad Thoe said he always admired the AB Hall since he was a kid and wanted to build a shed or garage that resembled it.He started the project on his property at the end of State Street three years ago, cutting down small birch saplings along an abandoned section of railbed north of town. He began with small pieces, peeling them individually, and setting them in squares on the west side of the garage. He said he got better with each section, and this summer moved to the front of the garage with some bigger pieces.
He decided to use the original spelling of ‘Skagua’ and ‘Home of the North Wind’ above the garage door, staining them a darker color. Steve Burnham painted the blue for the Alaska flag, and Brad found some perfect stars at the Kone Kompany for tracing the Big Dipper, including a big one for the North Star.
With help from his wife, Courtney, they have created an eye-catcher for tourists and locals driving into town.
“I can’t believe how many people stop and take a picture,” he said. “To date I have 2,960 sticks on it.”
Also adorning the garage are a moose skull and antlers and two bulls (not native to this area), and a rare “Goarse” (see inset). Brad said that some horses were driven so hard during the gold rush that by the time they reached the summit, they grew goat horns. – JB
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Wastewater treatment plant upgrade estimates double in cost, borough seeks loan from DEC
In a teleconference meeting with HDR engineers last week, the Public Works Committee learned that the cost options for improvements to the wastewater treatment plant are much higher than anticipated.
The borough received a grant of $2.5 million from the Legislature last session, but that will cover only half, in the lowest-cost scenario.
Mayor Tom Cochran said the lowest cost option is $4.8 million, while there are other options that have estimated costs from $5.2 million to $6.5 million.
The improvements are required to bring Skagway back into federal compliance.
Borough Manager Tom Smith drew up a resolution asking for a loan from the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Alaska Clean Water Fund. The fund has a 90 percent forgiveness on the first $2 million, and a low 1.5 percent interest rate on the balance over 20 years.
The assembly voted 6-0 to approve the resolution.
West Creek area planning begins
The Parks and Recreation Committee began the process of developing a West Creek Recreation Area Bridge Plan during an Aug. 28 meeting. And committee chair Mike Korsmo presented an outline at the assembly meeting.
Long-term goals are to develop a use plan for the entire creek valley, prioritize projects, set timelines for implementation, and finalize the plan.
Short-term goals include identifying trail routes, including one to the alpine upper valley, and another to Lost Lake, and designating immediate allowable uses. These uses include:
• ATV use on selected trails
• Snow machine use in winter on selected trails
• Timber harvesting on designated trail clearing projects only (the borough recently had to post a notice that no firewood cutting is currently allowed while the plan is being developed).
• Establish weight limits and allow no road vehicles across bridge.
• Allow horse clearance on the bridge and trails for non-commercial horse traffic.
• Identify designated camping areas.
“Everyone seemed to be in agreement on it,” Korsmo said, but he noted that just three assembly members were the only ones present at the committee meeting.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
FIRE WATCH -Skagway volunteer firefighters participated in a fire training drill Sept. 8 that focused on how to fight vehicle fires. Two vehicles were torched and extinguished, including an old van. At the ready with a garden hose, is a future recruit. See more photos in our print edition.
Photo submitted by Andy Miller