September 25, 2009 • Vol. XXXII, No. 17
Singing into the Sunset
Jim Richards (Soapy) sings “Moonlight, the Yukon and You” to Margeaux Heaton (Belle) during Richards’ ’98 Show finale after 36 years on the Skagway stage. Heaton will take over ownership of the show next year. See story below. Andrew Cremata
Cruise lines sue state, claim $46 of $50 head tax is unconstitutional
Attorney General Sullivan ‘will vigourosly defend the state’
By JEFF BRADY
The cruise lines had been hinting all year at possible legal action against the voter-approved Alaska cruise passenger excise tax, and on Sept. 17 they filed an action in federal court against the portion of the tax known as the $46 entry fee.
The 16-page complaint filed by the Alaska Cruise Association against Department of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, alleged that the fee “violates basic and statutory protections that prevent states from exacting fees from maritime visitors to defray local government expenses and from discriminating against interstate commerce.”
It further said the fee ignores charges already paid in cruise ports, and produces revenues “that far exceed the expenses the State incurs to provide services or facilities to cruise ships.” Using improvements at the Alaska Zoo and other projects as examples, it said money generated by the fee had gone to projects outside of ports of call, and that there have been appropriations to future projects which “do not have the legally-required relationship to services or facilities provided to cruise ships.”
The suit also alleges that the tax discriminates against visitors to the state.
Citing case law, the suit claims a violation of the Tonnage Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which “limits a state’s authority to impose fees or taxes measured by the capacity of a vessel for the privilege of entering, lying in, or leaving ports or waters of a state unless those fees or taxes defray the cost of services provided to the vessel.”
The suit states that the fee also violates a federal statute related to the Supremacy Clause, as well as Commerce Clause, by collecting the tax from passengers on large vessels engaged in interstate commerce.
The suit does not challenge the $4 portion of the tax used for paying state Ocean Rangers to be onboard environmental monitors.
The full complaint can be viewed at the Alaska Cruise Association website: www.akcruise.org, along with testimonials by various business owners who have been impacted by the tax over the past two summers.
One of them is by Steve Hites, president of the Skagway Street Car Co.: “Absolutely negative,” Hites leads off. “It has affected my business dramatically. We are losing three big ships and that will have a dramatic affect on my business for the 2010 season. The head tax has made Alaska less of a competitor all over the world. We have made it very difficult for the cruise ships to make any profit here. This is not because of the down economy; this is because we are no longer competitive with the rest of the world. The people who voted for this cruise ship head tax did not understand this industry.”
Skagway, along with Ketchikan and Hoonah, were the only Southeast communities to vote against the tax initiative in 2006. Last month, the Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution asking the Legislature to revisit the cruise initiative, but did not go as far as recommending a repeal of the tax.
“Everyone should be reminded that it is not just the head tax, it also includes the casino tax and a few other things,” said Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue. “We are asking for a review of the overall impact that this tax is having, and believe it should be amended.”
Donahue said the ACA appreciated the borough’s resolution, and he thinks the case law may favor them, noting there was agreement with petitioners in three similar federal district court actions cited on the ACA website. One is a June 2009 Supreme Court ruling against a Valdez, Alaska ordinance that tried to collect personal property tax on the value of oil tankers.
The state, however, plans to fight the ACA law suit.
“The cruise ship industry and the 1 million passengers who come to Alaska every summer contribute significantly to Alaska’s economy,” said Attorney General Dan Sullivan in a statement on Sept. 18. “The Parnell administration will continue to work with the industry and Alaska businesses on ways to increase tourism and the economic opportunity it provides for Alaskans.
“Today’s lawsuit, however, does not come as a surprise. The cruise ship industry has been threatening to sue the state ever since Alaska citizens voted to require passengers to pay their fair share of the costs of services and facilities provided to host them. The Department of Law will vigorously defend the state in this lawsuit.”
Hey Mickey, meet Soapy
Disney calls first in Skagway in 2011
With the Sept. 11 announcement by Disney Cruise Lines that it will be sending its 2,400-passenger Disney Wonder to Alaska in 2011, Skagway stands to recoup more than half of the passengers it is losing next season.
The news came a couple weeks after Crystal Cruises announced it would be bringing a ship back to Alaska for the first time since 2005.
Together, Disney’s 45,000 passengers and Crystal’s 13,000 cruisers mean Skagway will see 58,000 new passengers in 2011, gaining substantial ground on the approximately 83,000 the port will miss next year with the loss of a ship each from Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian cruise lines.
People on the streets of Skagway were elated with the news, some joking that Mickey Mouse will finally get to visit the “Disneyland of the North,” as some tourism naysayers from other towns have chosen to call busy little Skagway.
Disney, in the announcement on its website, said the Alaska cruises will start on May 3, 2011 from Vancouver. The ship will sail to Tracy Arm and then make Skagway its first Alaskan stop, followed by Juneau and Ketchikan, before returning to Vancouver.
“In Skagway, Disney Cruise Line guests can traverse panoramic landscapes by railway, or pan for gold like miners from the famous Klondike gold rush,” the website says, and with a click there’s a photo of gold panning at Liarsville.
The last of 18 weekly voyages will be Sept. 15. The cruises start at $939 per person for inside cabins.
Like Crystal, Disney’s expansion to Alaska, is just part of its branching out to other destinations around the world, including North Africa.
“We’re excited to offer this incredible choice of itineraries for 2011, with cruise vacation options for every family – whether that’s outdoor adventure in Alaska, the beauty and culture of Europe, folklore and pageantry of Mexico or tropical fun in the Caribbean,” said Disney Cruise Line President Karl Holz. “The unique advantage of Disney Cruise Line is that we offer a customized ship experience that brings families together, while still catering to the personalized vacation needs of every guest who sails with us.”
To improve the view on Alaska, the ship will go into drydock next October.
“Located high atop deck 10, the 2,500-square-foot Outlook Café is a stylish retreat for guests to relax and enjoy a beverage or cocktail as they peer out through floor-to-ceiling, curved glass windows at breathtaking vistas,” the website says.
Two members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation were quick to welcome the news.
“At a time when all segments of the economy are working to get back on track, this is excellent news for Alaska and our business community, especially in the Southeast communities where these ships will dock,” said Sen. Mark Begich. “The tourism industry will clearly benefit from Disney Cruise Lines showcasing Alaska’s wonders to people from all over the world.”
Rep. Don Young added, “I am very excited to see that Disney will be coming to Alaska. This has been a rough year for our economy and in turn for Alaskan tourism. This show of confidence will be a tremendous boost to our state at a time when we need it most and I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a long-lasting partnership for Alaska and Disney. I know the many young families that frequent Disney Cruise lines will love all of the natural wonders that Alaska has to offer them as much as those of us who live here do.”
TIGER grant submitted
Total Gateway request jumps to $117 million
By JEFF BRADY
With several clicks of the mouse, the municipality’s federal grant application for the Gateway Project was sent to Washington, DC on Sept. 14, a day before the deadline for requests under the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.
The Skagway Port Steering Committee met four times in the final week to finish editing the TIGER grant document, which is available under its own heading on the borough website, www.skagway.org.
There are links to maps and several supporting documents, including letters from Governor Sean Parnell, Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie, state Sen. Albert Kookesh and Rep. Bill Thomas, Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway, the Alaska Miners Association, and potential Yukon mines Selwyn Resources and Yukon Zinc Corp. All tout the importance of the Gateway Project for the Port of Skagway.
Borough Manager Tom Smith explained that some new estimates from PND Engineers for improvements to the ore terminal drove up the total project cost numbers – from $89 million to $117 million. The improvements were requested by terminal owner Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state agency that agreed last month to co-sponsor the application.
The costs are detailed in a 14-point project cost estimate document. Smith explained that the furnishing and installment of a new ore ship loader increased by $5 million to $15 million, and new buildings and conveyors for new mining products accounted for $20 million. The remaining difference was for increased contingency, with a slight reduction in the amount forecast for a fill area behind sheet pile to hold the new ship loader.
The project still has four main phases (see box with costs on page 3):
• Phase I: Completion of the ore storage facility, the rehabilitation to the feed conveyor, the feed reclamation conveyor, the upgrading of the dust control system and modification to the power supply. This will double the capacity, increase the efficiency of the product transfer and lower the operating costs at the port.
• Phase II: Expansion of port site by creation of uplands with a new bulkhead structure, crane rails and construction of the first half of a heavy-duty platform dock with ship dolphins. This will expand the ability to take large containerized freight shipments and cruise ships.
• Phase III: Replace existing ship ore loader with a new ship ore loader built within the new sheet pile bulkhead area. This will place the loader in a structurally more desirable location for long-term support of this essential machine.
• Phase IV: Construct the second half of the heavy-duty platform dock, and barge ramp with dolphins. This will expand the ability to take barge shipments (possible support of Alaska Gas Pipeline and Mackenzie Pipeline project). A number of customers have been identified for the port. Currently Capstone Mining Corp. is shipping +90,000 tons of copper ore concentrate through the Port of Skagway.
The committee beefed up language touting job creation and the economic aspects of the “Skagway Advantage” – how shipping through Skagway is a cost savings both for shipping outbound minerals (versus Stewart, BC) and for inbound freight (versus coming up the Alaska Highway).
The document says the port facility improvements on the east side of the waterfront are needed to sustain and grow both the cruise and shipping industries.
“If this infrastructure is not improved, the port will be unable to continue to serve existing and future traffic,” according to the grant application. “The poor condition of its marine facilities will render it unusable for freighters, barges and cruise ships. If the next generation of much larger cruise ships cannot find a berth in Skagway, they will be forced to bypass the port and Skagway will lose this industry as well.”
In terms of economic impacts and jobs, the document states the improvements will earn the port over $14 million by 2014, and over $26 million by 2024.
“This will result in the creation of 220 direct, indirect and induced jobs by 2014 and nearly double that amount by 2024,” states the application. “Approximately one-third of the jobs (76) represent direct employment related to the Project and will be created within the local Skagway economy, providing a very significant economic stimulus to the community. “
It goes on to say, “With a winter time unemployment rate of 29.3 percent, there are approximately 150 eligible workers in Skagway that currently do not have a year-round job. The Gateway Project could serve to reduce this winter unemployment in Skagway by 50 percent.”
Submitted at the same time as the TIGER documents were various permit applications required by the state and under the National Environmental Policy Act. The timetable, if all are approved, has design and field work beginning this winter, with design completion by July, and construction contracts being awarded in the second half of 2010. Construction would be completed by the end of 2011
Final bow for Jim ‘Soapy’ Richards
By JEFF BRADY
A packed house at the Eagles Hall Theatre on Sept. 17 witnessed the finale of the undisputed king of the frontier actors.
After a little more than 10,100 shows, Jim Richards is moving on from the role he perfected, that of gold rush con man Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith in the Days of ’98 Show.
Richards came to Skagway at just the right time, the mid-1970s, when the second gold rush – tourism – was in its formative years. Richards first played Slim Jim Foster, a banjo-playing member of the gang, in the original “Soapy Lives” show at AB Hall. When the first Soapy, Tom Biss of Juneau, stepped aside three years later, Richards took over the role. The following year, in 1978, he formed Gold Rush Productions with Dorothy Shaplin and Steve Hites, and they merged with the then-fledgling Days of ’98 Show at the Eagles. What resulted was a professional play about Skagway’s gold rush history that mixes music, dancing and comedy with the rise and fall of Alaska’s most notorious criminal. Richards eventually became sole owner, and the ’98 Show has had a long, successful run with him at the helm.
And for all of those 33 years – almost as long as his character lived on this earth – Richards has been Soapy Smith. Although he gradually eased out of the role over the past few years, allowing Jon Baldwin to play most of the shows, Richards still commanded attention right up to his last time on stage. And on Skagway’s Broadway, he still answered to “Soapy.”
“How ya fixed for soap?”
It’s a special day, as about 100 cruise ship passengers get a hint of what is going on.The place is packed, with locals filling the gaps in the rows, standing in the back, and filling the balcony.Not only is this the 266th and final show of the 84th season, but it’s a “monumental occasion,” says lead-off bard Michael Baish, a boyhood friend of Richards who gets the crowd warmed up with Robert Service poetry.
Then Richards strolls onstage with piano player Mark Radice to loud applause. He picks up his banjo, and announces that they will play a “syncopated tune heard on the streets of Skagway 100 years ago.”
“Yeah, Jim!” yells someone from the balcony.
But the man strums his banjo and stays in characters as the cast rolls right into the show, which is, they sing, “mostly true…partly true!”
After the opening number, Richards launches into the immortal soap pitch, created by Soapy on the streets of Denver, and perfected on his way up to Skagway. Richards is a master at manipulating his audience, probably better than Soapy ever was – except once.
To those who know, this is the moment where a stroke silenced him onstage just three weeks ago.
It happened on a Friday afternoon, Aug. 28. Richards says his mind was clear, but the words just would not come out, and the show ground to a halt. Richards was rushed to the clinic, as the audience got their money back. Baldwin filled in for the weekend shows, and Richards was home from the hospital and back in action the following Tuesday.
Cast members were amazed, and Richards made it another couple of weeks to the season finale.
“I’ve never heard him sound better,” Radice says later.
“He was soooo good,” says dance hall queen/director Margeaux Heaton, who will take over the show next summer. “And to think he was just in the hospital 2-3 weeks ago. I can’t imagine the show without him.”
“Greed is what brings them here, greed is what keeps them here, and greed is what sends them home broke.”
Richards admits, he loves delivering that line.
The unrestrained climate of gold rush Skagway allowed Soapy Smith to prey on unsuspecting cheechakos and then rise to power.
Richards said he still loves playing the “John Fay scene,” in which Soapy takes advantage of an opportunity to put down mob rule by a vigilante committee after the Rowan-McGrath murders.
“Soapy was at the pinnacle of his power, and absolutely had control of everybody,” Richards says. “People were too involved in the gold rush, and nobody opposed him.”
But the power was short-lived and came crashing down on July 8, 1898, when his gang robbed a gold prospector in broad daylight. In the last part of the play, as the vigilante committee grows in strength, Soapy tries to explain himself with each drink from the bottle.
“I’ve been better for Skagway than…” Soapy says, trailing off, a conflicted con man, torn between good and evil, and done in by the carelessness of his own power.
“Did it ever get to your head?” the actor is asked later by the reporter.
Richards laughs, “They took an MRI of my head a few weeks ago, and there is some scar tissue in there.”
And so, unlike Soapy, the actor knows when it’s time to move on.
“You know, it’s been real fun, but I’m ready (to retire),” he continues. “I’m way past ready.”
Richards admits he could have done a better job in the PR department, and says it’s great to be able to hand over the show to someone like Heaton.
“It’s been hard finding someone to take over,” he said. “Margeaux knows the ropes. She’s been involved in basically everything for the past six years, and she’s got some good help.”
“I play Soapy’s…. well, not his mother.”
Heaton says the prospect of taking over the ’98 Show is “very scary,” but she is also “thrilled.”
She said it was first offered to her three years ago, and then it progressed from the talking stage to something serious this past summer.
“I’m honored that he would trust me with the tradition,” she said. “I want to take us in the direction we need to go. I think I have the energy and the drive.”
She’s already working the ships, and talking to other local tour operators about pairing up for next summer.
“The sky’s the limit,” she says. “But Jim will help. He’s still trying to con me.”
For now, she will head to Juneau for six weeks of rehearsals for a different show. Heaton will be in Perseverance Theatre’s production of “Leading Ladies” in November.
“We’ll build a sweet little nest, somewhere in the west, and let the rest of the world go by.”
As Belle Davenport, Heaton sings that song right before her man walks down the street to his death.
For Richards, the westward stroll will take him back to Hawaii with his wife Terri, who has helped him keep the show going these past few years. They’ve been working on a home during their winters on the big island for the past decade, and it’s time to finish it.
But Richards says he will be back in the spring for a couple weeks to assist in the final transition.
The show ends with the traditional “Alaska’s Flag” which Richards belts out for the last time. And then there is a long – very long – standing ovation.
The cast gives Richards a shirt from his first stage gig, “Soapy Lives”, and then Charlotte Jewell presents a large bouquet of flowers from Richards’ former partner, Dorothy Shaplin, and their kids Brooks and Jimmy in Sweden.
He asks us later to print the inscription. How can we refuse Soapy’s last request? After all, he even controlled some of the press in this town for a time:
Well Soapy the day finally came
When the Shell Game comes to an end
You stood here how many times
And repeated always the same old lines.
Dancers, Actors, Writers and Musicians
Directors, Ticket Takers and Light Technicians
Public faces, well known faces
Watching you go through the paces.
Show after show, year after year
Oh, all the stories, we could laugh till tears
Now that you’re feeling just fine
Write them down so we’ll all remember the good times.
Wish I could have been there, Brooks too
Plus a whole lot of others I’m sure
You’ll be missed on stage in the theatre
For we know Jim that nobody did it better.
Wishing you all the best,
Dorothy, Brooks and Jimmy
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Sewer treatment plant top priority (note: some of the figures in this report have been corrected from the print edition)
The Public Works Committee discussed sewer treatment plant options with operator Tim Gladden, who recently returned from a tour of five different facilities in Washington state.
Gladden said the MDR design option would be too costly for Skagway rate-payers (about $49 per month) and suggested a mid-level treatment option costing about $10 per month for users. Skagway is submitting samples to its engineering firm, HDR, to see if one of two treatment procedures would work best.
This will take some time, however, and engineers and a representative from the state Department of Environmental Conservation advised against the borough trying to meet a Jan. 15 deadline for federal economic stimulus funds for the project. Most agreed Skagway could end up with a “rushed project” that could result in numerous change orders.
HDR still needs to complete the feasibility study, and committee chair Dave Hunz said they will ask the borough attorney if HDR can be hired to move forward with the design, or if an RFP is required.
The federal grant would have given the borough a 90:10 match for the , but it was noted that the borough could still qualify for an 85:15 match from the state DEC. There would be no problem meeting the state’s application deadline.
Skagway currently has a $2.5 million legislative appropriation that can go toward the project, which is estimated to cost about $5 million.
“To meet a January (federal) deadline is unrealistic,” Hunz said, “but we need to keep it on the front burner.”
Gladden said both of his recommended options would result in removal of 50 percent of BOD and 85 percent of suspended solids, which should satisfy the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Skagway plant has been operating under a conditional permit since it was targeted by the EPA in 2006.
The sewer treatment plant is on the top of a capital projects priority list, which the assembly approved in a resolution on Sept. 17. Following the treatment plant on the Skagway CIP list are: renovation are the small boat harbor (an engineering RFP is in the works), the Gateway Project, Main Street sidewalk replacement, bike path to Liarsville, Main Street repaving, and a public safety building.
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Skagway qualifies for ‘migrant students’; Too late to apply for $19,000 this year
Superintendent Les McCormick told the Skagway School Board this week that the district qualifies under a federal program to receive funds for “migrant students” whose parents travel to and from Skagway in spring and fall for their jobs.
With the current number of those students, Skagway would see about $19,000, he said, but they will have to apply next year. McCormick said the students must be signed up for the program as soon as they enroll, so it was too late for the district to qualify for the current school year. He said students returning next spring will be given the paperwork.
“We have to wait, because they have all left now,” he said.
The district started the school year with 94 students and “topped out” at 98. But by the time the counting period begins next week, they could be under 90 students.
The district was able to qualify for $15,000 in additional Carl Perkins grant funds this year, McCormick reported, and that money will be directed to the technology/business program and possibly enable the school to reopen its shop classroom.
The board approved its final budget revision for the previous school year, with adjustments for actual PERS and TRS employer retirement expenses. The district spent $2.394 million last year, and finished with a deficit of about $5,092.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
FINISH COLLAPSE - Quinn Weber looks down on collapsed teammate Mickey Wilson as he crosses the finish line in the Skagway Invitational Cross Country meet. The Skagway pair finished second and third. See story in Sports & Rec. Jeff Brady