October 8, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 18

Not Even Close

Kaitlyn Surdyk breaks the tape in Sitka to win the SE Regional small schools cross country race, the first-ever individual title for a Skagway female. Her time of 20:11 was her personal best, and she finished an amazing one minute and 19 seconds faster than second place Bailey Brady of Sitka. Teammate Rori Leaverton finished 11th on a hurt foot to also qualify for State. And Hannah O’Daniel, Amanda Lervik, Helen Bruenger, Camilla Gentilli, and Jade Cook also set personal records. See story in Sports & Rec.

Photo by Becky Jensen, courtesy of “Grandpa” Les Fairbanks

Bear ‘zoo’ currently can’t get state permit

By ANDREW CREMATA

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game currently is not taking any applications for “zoos” like the proposed bear viewing habitat that was recently approved by the Skagway Planning and Zoning Commission and which is now under appeal.
On Sept. 9, P&Z awarded a conditional use permit to Alaska Excursions for a new tour attraction across the river in the industrial zone along the Klondike Highway. It authorized construction of a bear viewing enclosure and to keep up to 10 dogs and two litters of puppies for a seasonal sled dog demonstration, along with a gift shop.
The state does not currently have regulations that allow such a bear viewing “zoo” facility.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Permitting Officer Tom Schumaker said via telephone on Monday that the state was not accepting applications for new zoos. Schumaker said there were a couple of zoos in Southeast Alaska that currently housed bears, such as Fortress of the Bear in Sitka, but he said ADF&G was in the process of updating their policies due to the fact that existing policies were outdated.
Schumaker said no date had been set for the completion of the guidelines. He said he spoke with two representatives from Alaska Excursions who were informed of the situation.
On Tuesday, Alaska Excursions business manager David Osmond said via telephone from the ATIA Conference in Whitehorse that he did speak with Schumaker and knew that it was currently impossible to apply for a permit from the state. He said they were trying to go through the steps now, so that they could be ready to begin operations “two or three years down the line.”
Osmond said they considered the conditional use permit from the Municipality of Skagway the first step in the process.
During an August P&Z meeting, when the permit was first proposed, there was some discussion of state law concerning the “bear bungalow.” Osmond said that state law required they hire staff trained by wildlife experts. Commissioner Rocky Outcalt said he wanted to see a copy of state code brought to him before he made a ruling.
Acting Chair Matt Deach said to Outcalt that state guidelines were an issue for the state. He then addressed Osmond and said the proposal was “well thought out…so I imagine you’ve got your bases covered.”
Added Deach, “So as far as the state’s animal guidelines from a planning and zoning perspective, I’m not that concerned about it.”
Deach reiterated his comments via telephone this week when asked if the commission should have addressed the issue with the state, or at least looked into their requirements before awarding the permit.
He said that the proposed land usage for the area was allowed in Skagway code, so that is the only issue they needed to address. He added that the plans presented by Alaska Excursions were only preliminary plans. A portion of those plans were presented to P&Z and not to the public.
This oversight was cited in three separate appeals filed with the municipality as a reason the conditional use permit should be revoked. Osmond called the documents “visual aids,” and said they were not included in the original application packet because they had not been completed until shortly before the meeting.
When asked how a plan could be created without knowing what the state guidelines might eventually encompass, Osmond said they followed federal guidelines when creating the proposal, and that he did not expect state regulations to be much different when they were eventually updated by the state.
Multiple appeals to P&Z’s decision were to be heard this week by the Skagway Borough Assembly, acting as the Board of Adjustment, but were postponed due to one of the appellants being out of town. A new date for the meeting has been set for Wednesday, Oct. 20. It will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the assembly chambers.

UPDATE: On Oct. 20, the Board of Adjustment on a 3-1 vote decided not to uphold the P&Z ruling on the conditional use permit, siding with the appealants who claimed the application was incomplete. See story in Oct. 29 issue.

Municipal Election Results: Reichert, Korsmo post big wins in assembly race; easy victory for school board incumbent Belisle

Cruise stats show drop of 83,403 passengers

By JEFF BRADY

Skagway saw a total of 695,640 passengers on cruise ships this past summer, a reduction of 83,403 from the 2009 season, according to statistics provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The final number is actually about 30,000 higher than the expected totals taken from the double occupancy capacities listed by the ships at the start of the season, according to the CVB.
There also were 284,139 crew members who visited the port, compared with 321,886 in 2009.
The passenger and crew reductions reflect the loss of three large cruise ships in 2010, a low point year compared with the past decade. Next year, the community will see a net gain of about one ship, as three new ships are entering the Alaska market or returning to Skagway, while two are moving to other destinations. There also will be the anticipated loss of about 2,100 passengers on the small ships operated by Cruise West, which recently went out of business.
Twenty-seven different ships called on Skagway this year during 370 port calls. These figures were the lowest since the late 1990s. Skagway’s peak year was 2007, when there were 820,744 passengers on 33 ships that made 495 calls to the port.
In his Tourism Director’s report to the CVB board on Oct. 1, Buckwheat Donahue noted that despite the lower cruise numbers, there was a slight increase at the AB Hall visitors center.
“The Visitor Center had over 80,000 visitors this year, which is up 2.5 percent, and we’re experiencing an increase of 10,000 to 20,000 cruise visitors next year. So things will be a little bit better.”
He also noted that the CVB’s finances were “OK.” Through mid-summer there were slight increases in ferry and highway traffic, which could translate into more hotel room and RV nights. The CVB is funded mostly from bed tax revenues. Final revenue figures for the season will be available after the end of this month.
In other business at the Oct. 1 meeting, the CVB board:
• learned that the Finance Committee had approved of a supplemental budget increase to $25,000 (from $10,000) for next year’s North Words Writers Symposium. The symposium will be held here again, as opposed to Dawson City. Donahue had originally requested an increase to $21,000 to help draw some big-name writers to Skagway. The assembly is scheduled to rule on it and a number of budget amendments later this month. The dates for the 2011 symposium are June 1-4. Donahue said the event will definitely move to Denali National Park the following year, but Dawson was not ready to take it on this year. He said cost was a factor. Donahue said the first event was so successful that Skagway is the envy of many communities right now for taking this on.
• heard that a date has been set for another new event, the Skagway Marathon. It will be June 11 and will coincide with the Fran Delisle Cancer Awareness Walk. Donahue said all but $10 of the $50 entry fee could be donated to the cancer fund. The course will start in Skagway and head up out to Dyea up the West Creek road, with a turnaround point near the new footbridge. It will finish in town. The course was run this summer by a group off a cruise ship.
• passed on the idea of having Donahue be a Haines-Skagway tourism director. Haines is currently contemplating what to do with the recent departure of its TD, and Donahue said some Haines people asked if he were interested in some sort of joint operation. Donanhue was not especially keen on the idea but did look into the savings of doing some cooperative marketing. Members were cool to the idea of a joint tourism director, but asked him to explore joint marketing ideas after a new Haines tourism director is hired.
• sent Donahue off on a month of promotional traveling, starting with the Alaska Tourism Industry Association Conference in Whitehorse this week. Skagway co-hosted a big community night at the curling rink. He also will travel to Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Seattle for a western CVB conference, an Alaska media road show, and visits with cruise line representatives and the Jack London Society.

RED NECK SCIENCE – SHS teacher Cory Thole and student John Doland crack up after their potato gun shoots a dud during a physics class demonstration on velocity. There were many successful launches. Although several potatoes were harmed, none landed on heads. See a full class report on page 5 of our print edition. - Jeff Brady

School searches for answers on how to get better

By JEFF BRADY

Dr. Jeffrie Thielbar’s strategy of serving food to get people out to talk about the school worked at the end of September. Instead of holding an open house, the district decided to hold a “School Improvement Night” with chili and corn bread this year.
It brought out more than 55 people – a mix of parents, students and teachers – who first were shown a PowerPoint about the district’s recent report card, and then turned into an hour-long discussion on how to improve the school.
Skagway’s report card is considered the best in the state, with better than 90 percent of students testing at proficient or higher in all areas, compared with state averages of 69 to 76 percent, Thielbar said. It’s a safe school, he added, and “we have great, great teachers and people that work here. They care about kids.”
But it is a small school struggling with decreased enrollment. Near the end of September it was already at 84 after starting at 91 on the first day of school, and could go into the low 70s by the end of October. He said he hopes to stop the trend of reduced funding from both the state and the borough.
“We are not able to offer everything I’d love to offer,” he said, adding that they can build on the school’s core values: academic excellence, active participation with family and community, and a positive atmosphere.
There are three fewer teachers in the school than a year ago, and Thielbar said the tighter schedule is working, though there are some disruptions. With the last period now being used for planning, teachers have only a half hour to help students at the end of the day. The problem is mainly in the high school, but a minimum day is being built into the schedule once a month for teachers to collaborate on projects.
Still, he said it’s great to see students staying after school and doing work.
When Karl Klupar cited a recent news story that 54 percent of students entering the University of Alaska are requiring remedial classes to get up to college level, Thielbar said the statistic for Skagway students was about 24 percent. He said it could be that Skagway requires three years of high school math to graduate, leaving the senior year open for many students. And after missing a year of math, “some have to take remedial” to get it back, he said.
When asked about options for increasing enrollment, Thielbar said he had talked to some parents who had pulled their kids and was also trying to get some home-schooled kids in the building for a couple periods a day.
He said he had reservations about a boarding school idea. “Who will stay up at night and watch the little buggers?” Thielbar asked.
Willeke Burnham and Angie Grieser suggested the district look into becoming a correspondence school like Galena, which offers courses through about 500 vendors. Thielbar cautioned there would need to be coordination with the state over what’s accredited curriculum and staff would be needed to manage it, but Grieser thought it could be handled by one person.
Teacher’s aide Billi Clem suggested the school have a volunteer coordinator who could supervise kids doing homework at the end of the day, and Cara Cosgrove said the coordinator also could help get volunteers in the classroom to help teachers grade papers and do other tasks. Thielbar said several times that the best money spent is on teachers in the classroom.
He asked if the community would be supportive of a focus school concept, such as making it have a business focus over the next couple years and turning it into a “magnet school.” There was mixed reaction. Some liked the idea of a business focus to prepare kids to take over businesses in the community, but others said the current focus on preparing kids for college should be kept since it is working.
Theilbar recommended expanding the focus to include “career tech,” and Kay Ibbotson suggested bringing back (OJT) On the Job Training opportunities with local businesses and skilled people in the community.
Other ideas included Rosemary Klupar’s proposal for having 50/50 lottery tickets sold downtown in the summer to support the school, and “paying people to have more babies.” This got a laugh from the audience, but she was serious about the lottery idea because many tourists ask if there is an Alaska lottery. But there were concerns about mixing kids and gambling, and what kind of message that would send.

SKAGWAY NEWS INTERVIEW: Eugene Hretzay, president of WP&YR

SPORTS & REC: Surdyk charges to region win; Alumni, friends show up at State to support SHS runners

BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)

Seniors set to stake out ‘Big Dippers’
 Skagway senior citizens are preparing to move into the Little Dippers Daycare facility for the winter, and will transform the building into a place for “Big Dippers” to gather on weekday afternoons.
Plans for the winter senior center were finalized during a meeting of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee on Sept. 27 and then forwarded to the Skagway Borough Assembly for final approval this Thursday.
The facility at the north end of Main Street is set to open Oct. 11 and will be open Monday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. It is being advertised as a place to play games, work on crafts or tell stories (see White Pass community ad on page 4).
“It will be a place where you can leave a quilt or a puzzle or a crib board out,” said HEW chair Colette Hisman. “A gathering spot.”
An internet connection will be made available, and eventually there could be craft classes held for seniors or the public in the building.
Hisman said the committee is open to suggestions on other activities, and they are being collected by “Grandma” Ginny Cochran at 612-0313.
Volunteers will be needed to help staff the building and assist seniors. Hisman said she would volunteer for the first week, and a sign-up sheet is being started to select certain days of the week to help.
Transportation to the facility will be available from Tim Salter with Catholic Senior Services by calling 983-3664. He expects to transport a group after Senior Lunch, which moves to a Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule in the winter.
“It will take some time for it to grow,” said Hisman. “By the 15th we should have an idea who all will be interested.”
The committee, which has been focusing on senior issues the past couple of months, also talked about the resumption of a “Good Neighbors” program. Barb Brodersen said she has a list compiled of 32 people who helped with the program in the past. Basically people sign up saying they are willing to be available for certain tasks for seniors – from general office work to minor repairs to hospice care – and then the seniors can make the calls.
At the end of the meeting, discussion turned to the long-range need of an assisted living facility in the community. Darlene Hoover said there still should be some money available for a borough task force set up a few years ago. Hisman said she checked with the borough treasurer, and $16,000 is available to get started on designing a facility.
Hisman said the municipality is retaining the old clinic site for the time being, awaiting a use for the land. She said some seniors have told her the site does not get enough sun, but she questioned how much more sun a suggested facility by the recreation center would get. Seniors said they never “gave up” the land by the rec. center for the skatepark and would like for the borough to also look at another site on the property. Others suggested buying or leasing part of the old Wind Valley Lodge.
While a site may continue to be debated, the need is already here. An assisted living facility, with wheel-chair access, would bridge the gap between living at home and moving into a nursing home.
Hoover said there are three or four people in the community who could use an assisted living facility now, and several seniors have had to leave the community in recent years because one was not available.
If a facility were available, it might make it easier for seniors to take the big step of moving into one.
“The hardest step that us independent people don’t want to take is leaving home,” said Brodersen. – JB

SCHOOL REPORT (complete digest in print edition)

More part-time students allowed
 At its Sept 28 meeting, the Skagway School Board approved a change in its administrative regulations that will allow more part-time students in the school. Previously, the district’s rule had been to allow part-time students only in the senior year.
Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said the change would reflect state guidelines and allow him to look at the schedule hour-by-hour when potential part-time high school students come in and fill out a request form to attend certain classes.
“I also want to increase our relationship with home school and correspondence students,” he said, “and open the doors to the free education we provide.”

Limits increasing for certain purchases
 The board passed first reading of a set of policies that will increase both the purchasing limit for the superintendent, and the amount before certain projects have to go out to formal bid.
Thielbar requested the change because he felt the current limit of $2,500 was too low for him to approve a purchase before needing school board approval of a purchase order. The new policy would increase the limit to $5,000.
At the same time, he proposed that the limit on soliciting informal quotes for certain purchases be changed from a range of $2,500 to $5,000 to a spread between $5,000 and $10,000.
Larger purchases, like a new main copier that is needed, would still go out to bid. But a four-wheeler with a snow/ice blade under $10,000 could be handled by calling for quotes from dealers. The board wasn’t convinced the district needed the latter, but said they would let the superintendent see if they could afford it.
Both policy changes passed and will move to second reading on Oct. 26. – JB