October 9, 2009 • Vol. XXXII, No. 18
Watch Your Back
Mickey Wilson (left) looks over his shoulder at the start of the SE Region Cross Country Meet in Juneau as teammate Quinn Weber (right) sprints to the lead. Wilson later caught all runners to win his second straight region title. See story and more photos from the SE and state meets in Skagway Sports & Rec. below.
Photo by Klas Stolpe
2009 Municipal Election Results: Mayor Tom Cochran reelected; Dave Hunz and Tim Cochran take 3-year assembly seats; Paul Reichert wins 1-year seat; Chris Ellis and Stuart Brown elected to school board
National honors for old Broadway
One of this year's 10 American 'Great Streets'
By JEFF BRADY
The American Planning Association (APA) announced Oct. 7 that Skagway’s Broadway has been designated one of 10 Great Streets for 2009 by APA's Great Places in America program.
Skagway is the first city in Alaska to be selected for a Great Places in America designation.
Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value, according to an APA news release. APA singled out Broadway for the way it captures and utilizes the town’s most precious resource – its history. This did not just happen on its own, according to APA. It took decades of commitment and work by city leaders and residents who recognized the historical significance of their community and its value to the nation. (Right, Skagway Ambassador Lisa Hollander directs visitors at 2nd and Broadway)
“The preservation of Broadway Street with its boardwalks and false front buildings is truly a unique example of Alaska’s Gold Rush history,” said Mayor Tom Cochran in a statement. “City leaders and our Historic District Commission have worked hard to maintain the historical accuracy of Broadway for our community and the many visitors to Skagway.”
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and authentic characteristics found in three essential components of all communities — streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces. APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live everyday, places that are enjoyable, safe, and desirable. Such places are defined by many characteristics, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement.
“We’re very excited to single out Broadway as one of this year’s Great Streets,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer. "The town’s leaders and citizens are to be commended for their long-standing commitment and on-going plans to maintain the historic character of the street, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.”
Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said Borough Clerk Marj Harris “deserves a huge pat on the back for this,” because she prepared the nomination.
Donahue added that the designation is a feather in the cap for Skagway, the Historic District Commission, the late Cy Coyne’s legacy, and “basically for the whole community for being willing participants in protecting and preserving Broadway. Finally after all these years, downtown Skagway is being recognized as what we always knew it to be, a great place in America.”
Donahue said APA is sending parchment certificates up to Skagway, which will be unveiled in a ceremony this month, probably at the Oct. 15 assembly meeting. He said the list will be mentioned on Good Morning America this week. (Left, the Historic District Commission is presented one of the plaques honoring Broadway as a Great American Street. From left are Doug Hulk, Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue, Su Rappeleye, Borough Clerk Marj Harris, Virginia Long, and Karl Klupar. Another plaque was presented to the Borough Assembly.)
Harris said she was pleased for the HDC, which “has worked very hard over the years to keep the Historic District looking like historic Skagway, not historic anywhere USA – Broadway is the heart of the district.
“They have dealt with a lot of adversity from business people who wished to do what they wanted to and sidestep the regulations,” she continued “This is one more first for Skagway.”
The APA press release gave a fairly detailed history of Skagway and the preservation effort, whose “tipping point” was Coyne’s effort in the 1950s and 1960s to have Skagway proclaimed a National Historic Site. It recognizes work by the HDC and the community’s comprehensive plans, working with residents and the National Park Service.
Skagway, Alaska’s Broadway is at the top of the list of Great Streets on the APA website, www.planning .org, with a fact sheet and photo.
The nine others for 2009 are: President Clinton Avenue, Little Rock, AR; Front Street, Bath, ME; South Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI; Front Street, Traverse City, MI; Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ; Main Street, Greenville, SC; Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA; North Main Street, Wheeling, WV; and East Newberry Boulevard, Milwaukee, WI.
DDF in limbo: Only one full-time student may force cut
Superintendent says district needs to address money issues; others try to save school's 'only academic program'
By JEFF BRADY
The school’s successful Debate, Drama and Forensics program may not have enough students to warrant funding this year, but students and the program’s former coach are rallying support to keep the district’s only academic activity alive.
In a note to the school board late last month, Superintendent Les McCormick said only one student was interested in the DDF program, and recommended that running it for one student would not be cost effective. The coaching position has not been posted, and the first meet of the season is in Haines next weekend.
In an interview this week, McCormick said the program itself had not been cut. He said there were other students interested, but none would commit to the program full-time. He said he met with three students who had commitments with volleyball, wrestling and basketball.
“They would never all be together (at DDF meets),” McCormick said. “And DDF finals are the same week as basketball (regionals).”
With DDF’s $17,000 budget for travel to four meets, McCormick said it would not be “cost-wise” to fund the program this year for one full-time student. He said if there is more interest, the program can continue.
“Where the interest went, I have no idea,” he said. “When I talked to the students, the commitment was in other places. They understood it.”
Brandy Mayo, the one full-time student, and former DDF coach Kent Fielding are hoping the program can continue because it is the only academic activity available for students.
Mayo, a junior, won regional events and finished fourth in the state in one event last year. She said cutting the program would not be “a very good thing, because it is the only academic activity that we have, and it is very beneficial to the students, and for the rest of their lives.”
She said she had tried to rally student interest in the program.
“I have and I found that most students are very supportive of the DDF program and don’t want to see it cut, but they have other commitments and can’t devote the time that it takes for DDF,” she said.
Still, they will be writing letters to the board, she said. Some may have to make sacrifices, as she has. As a member of the volleyball team, her only sport, she is not on the traveling squad so she can participate in DDF.
She and other students are still working on pieces “in the hope DDF will be able to continue on,” she said.
Teacher Fielding recognizes Mayo as a potential state champion whose career should not be interrupted. While he is stepping down from full-time coaching to be with his family more, he will continue to help the team, just not travel. He said local resident Teagan Baldwin is ready to step in, but the coaching position has not been posted. Fielding said Mayo could travel to meets with a parent to save the district money, if she is the only one able to go. And he is writing a letter to the school board that will outline several areas where travel expenses can be trimmed, not only in DDF but other activities.
In an e-mail statement this week, Fielding said he identified five or six students who want to participate and travel with the DDF team, though not to every meet. He said this was the case last year, and there was prior knowledge that Mayo would probably be the only full-time student this year.
“Dr. Dickens (superintendent on one year leave of absence) and I sat down last May when there was talk of cutting DDF and I told him that I believed that only Brandy would be in DDF next year,” Fielding stated. “He said he would still push to keep DDF, so technically the board approved the DDF budget with the knowledge that Brandy Mayo was the only student involved.”
He said the board should honor that commitment. Fielding added that McCormick had signed off on three DDF-related items this year: a $700 ticket to bring comedic actor Nat Towsen to Skagway Oct. 22-27 to work with DDF students; and membership in two forensic leagues.
“These acts would suggest that we would have a DDF team,” Fielding wrote.
“As far as DDF, there are conflicts with other sports, but students have participated in volleyball, basketball and DDF before,” he continued. “They just had to make choices and priorities. Does everyone in DDF have to go to State? Do the girls in volleyball have to go on every trip - especially when they are not playing?”
McCormick said the district’s reduced enrollment has him looking at more places to cut. He said the hold-harmless funding waiver from the state for dropping below 101 students will run out, and there has been “no real movement” to address money issues.
“We have to start moving in a direction to be more fiscally conservative,” McCormick said. “Just because it’s in the budget doesn’t mean we need to use it.”
But Fielding and Mayo say cutting a successful program is not the answer.
“DDF is Skagway's only academic program,” Fielding stated. “We need to keep something for those students who are not gifted in sports. As a school and a community, we need to find ways to keep programs running and not automatically resort to cutting.”
Mayo added, “DDF has been so helpful to me in high school in writing and speaking skills, and for the future, and I’d be really sad to see it go, if it gets cut.”
UPDATE: The board will take up the DDF issue at the Oct. 27 regular meeting.
AP&T, assembly agree town meeting next step for West Creek hydro idea
Goat Lake rates 'could' go down in 2016; AP&T questions effort to tax intertie 'sale for resale'
By JEFF BRADY
Officials from Alaska Power & Telephone told the Skagway Borough Assembly last week that any West Creek hydro development would be a borough project.
The two entities had agreed earlier this year to cooperate on applying for a state energy grant for a feasibility study of a 25 megawatt dam project that could supply power to cruise ships docking in Skagway. However, when AP&T recently asked to have a joint meeting with the Haines and Skagway boroughs about West Creek and regional power issues, the borough asked for a meeting with AP&T first.
As a sidebar, the borough’s Finance Committee is exploring the possibility of taxing the portion of Goat Lake Hydro-generated electricity that is sold to AP&T’s Haines operation.
Both issues were addressed in the Oct. 1 meeting.
AP&T regional manager Stan Selmer was asked what benefits Skagway would see from a West Creek project, and he told the assembly that it would be borough-owned and constructed and therefore a potential revenue-generator for the borough through power sales agreements with ships. He said AP&T would like to enter into a maintenance agreement with the borough for the project.
The funding for the project would come from the state’s cruise ship tax.
“Skagway is at a point where shoreside power might be a legitimate expense for that money,” Selmer said, if the state is successful defending the tax against a recent legal challenge by the cruise lines.
When asked how AP&T would benefit from the project, Selmer said it could further bolster wintertime hydropower supplies now provided by Goat Lake and Kasidaya. Even with those two projects, there still is a current need to run diesel generators for a few hours a day when lake levels drop in mid-winter, he said.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said the borough had done a study on legitimate expenses for cruise tax money, but he said West Creek hydro development is currently not on the borough’s priority list.
Mayor Tom Cochran, an AP&T employee, recommended a town meeting on the West Creek idea, since the public has a lot of questions. He suggested AP&T provide maps. Even some on the assembly thought it was a run-of-the river project, but Selmer said the grant application that the borough signed off on was for a dam. It would be located up the valley and not affect the new recreation area opened up by the new Jay Frey Bridge (see borough digest), but there would be a lake behind the dam.
“This project concept is great but what needs to happen (is) a serious town meeting…” Cochran said. “If the public is not in support of it, it can’t go forward.”
Selmer said AP&T was currently dealing with various user groups over the proposed Connelly Lake project in the Haines Borough. The project has that borough’s support, but there has been a lot of other opposition. He said they will make a determination soon on whether to proceed with that project, but there is an alternative site at Schubee Lake on the east side of Taiya Inlet in the Skagway Borough.
The discussion turned to rates and taxes. Power rates have been on the rise, and some on the assembly asked if they ever would go down. Selmer said sales from Goat Lake Hydro had not met initial estimates for paying down its debt for the project, which was constructed in 1998. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska granted a recent increase from 7.666 cents per kilowatt hour to 8.66 per kWh. A revised spreadsheet that AP&T provided RCA shows that new rate holding until 2016, when it could drop to 3.339 cents per kWh. Then it would fluctuate between that amount and about 4 cents per kWh when the project’s 30-year debt is retired. It would go up a fraction of a cent after that.
Selmer said those projected rate reductions are based on estimates.
“I emphasize could because we estimate the kWh sales that would allow us to achieve these reductions,” he wrote. “If we don't achieve the estimates, the rates won't go down as much and could be delayed. But this is the best estimate available at this time.”
Selmer said that because of Dewey Lake’s success this summer, Skagway ratepayers will pay about a penny less per kWh than Haines over the next three months.
Finance Chair Dan Henry said AP&T would be sent a letter asking if they saw any legal reason why the borough could not start collecting sales tax on power sales to customers in the Haines Borough.
Selmer said the company views the sales between Goat Lake Hydro and its three affiliates in Skagway, Haines and Klukwan as sales for resale. The entities in each community charge community sales tax on the power sold to customers.
“While we appreciate the need, taxing a sale for resale on an intertie doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Henry said that his view was that the hydropower is indigenous to Skagway and being exported to Haines, “with no revenue benefit from the sale to Haines… I’m just trying to protect our revenue source.”
Selmer said he would welcome the letter, but said the meeting was productive.
Members discussed having a meeting with Haines Borough officials on other issues besides hydro, and no timetable was set for a town meeting on West Creek.
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
The Skagway Borough Assembly met in work session last week to discuss whether to allow member attendance via teleconference on a limited basis.
While some members were hesitant to allow the practice at all, they were willing to see a new ordinance brought forward with strict limits.
Dennis Corrington, who was appointed to the assembly this summer, had initially proposed unlimited wintertime-only teleconferencing, but his ordinance failed on first reading last month. During the Sept. 29 work session, Corrington thanked the other members for being open about some form of limited teleconferencing.
He gave examples of communities in the state that allow members to participate via teleconference three or four times a year, with anywhere from 24 hours to four days notice.
Mayor Tom Cochran said he was considering introduction of an ordinance that would allow members to participate via teleconference four times a year, but for no more than two consecutive meetings.
Mark Schaefer said he hears from people on the street who are either against teleconferencing, or for it on a very limited basis, but he said he would support it.
Mike Korsmo also said he was not a big fan of teleconferencing, but said allowing it on a very limited basis “might be reasonable.”
Dave Hunz said there are good reasons assembly members miss meetings, but said that the business of the borough had slowed last winter when there were several meetings with just four members present, and allowing teleconferencing on a limited basis would help.
Colette Hisman said she had received mixed reactions on the subject from citizens at her café. She outlined how she could support it: if there are no more than two per assembly person per year, if only one is allowed to participate via teleconference at a time, if there is already a quorum of four present in Skagway, and if there is 48 hours notice.
Dan Henry said it was time to embrace the technology, but recommended that the member teleconferencing not be able to participate in executive sessions. He also said he would like to see a residency requirement for prospective candidates. Currently anyone who is registered to vote in Skagway is eligible. Henry said he would like to limit it to registered voters who are qualified as Permanent Fund Dividend recipients, but Borough Clerk Marj Harris said she would have to check to see if the borough could get access to that information from the state.
There was a candidate in the current election who had registered to vote on the day she filed her candidacy papers. Cochran said the discussion on eligibility should wait.
Cochran received agreement from the table that a quorum of four must be present in Skagway before a member is allowed to participate via teleconference.
“We need four here if the phone goes dead,” Hunz said.
There was a brief discussion about who would get priority if more than one member requested teleconferencing, and it was agreed that it would go to the first one who signed up. Hunz said if he were in a situation where he knew he was traveling and trying to get back to Skagway in time for a meeting, then he would sign up well in advance in case weather prevented him from getting back. And if he made it back fine, then he would be off the list and the next person on the list would be able to participate.
In the case of an executive session, the member would hang up when the session started, and would only be contacted after any vote occurred.
Cochran finally posed the question if allowing teleconferencing by members up to four times a year was too many.
“That may be pushing it,” Schaefer said.
But Cochran said he figured, at most, with the restriction to two consecutive meetings, a member could never be out of town more than a month and a half. But others suggested that could be stretched if a member was allowed to be absent from a couple of meetings.
Cochran responded, “If we adopt limited teleconferencing then we have to adopt an absence policy in code…. If (the absence) is not for medical or personal family issues, then we (members) would vote on (whether to allow it).”
The mayor said he would try to have an ordinance ready for the second meeting in October.
Jay Frey Recreational Bridge
The assembly on Oct. 1 unanimously passed a resolution naming the new bridge over West Creek the Jay Frey Recreation Bridge.
Members said Frey was an avid recreational user of the area, driving out to Dyea almost daily. Frey also was a city council member for 14 years until his death in 2005.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said the idea came from local resident Dean Anderson as they were scoping out the new area opened up by the bridge. He said they talked about Frey and how “he spent an incredible amount of time up there with his fishing pole and his dog.”
“And hanging out with the mayor of Dyea (Paul Jones),” added Dan Henry.
Korsmo said Stan Selmer helped him draft the resolution, which stated, “While the true measure of a man will never be land, money or fame, Jay Frey will be remembered for his good deeds on behalf of his fellow man in the Dyea Valley and West Creek specifically.”
There was just one objection from the audience. Mavis Irene Henricksen suggested that the old ferry bridge, which fell into the bay during the 1994 Railroad Dock collapse, be named for the Homer construction worker who died that night. She said the main West Creek bridge could be named for Frey, and also put forward Korsmo’s name for all his work on recreation in Dyea and Skagway.
Korsmo thanked Henricksen, but said the honor should go to Frey. Even while off the assembly, Korsmo said he plans to continue to work on the West Creek Land Management Plan for the area. Last Saturday he led a crew on a hike to mark some new trails and potential trees for wood-cutting.
In other action, the assembly passed first reading of an administrative code revision ordinance, and, acting on a recommendation from its attorney, passed first reading of an ordinance that would repeal the current prohibition of notices and handbills from public property.
Sale tax exemptions spike
At the Oct. 1 assembly meeting, Finance Chair Dan Henry showed members and the public a recent summary from Borough Treasurer Cindy O’Daniel that showed a spike in claimed exemptions this year by gift shops and fur/jewelry stores.
The exemptions were for phone order sales outside the borough, and they had increased from about $134,500 in the second quarter of 2008 to almost $362,000 in the second quarter of 2009.
Henry said it was more than triple what was reported last year, and had increased fourfold since 2005.
“At Finance, we were all wondering – it appears to be a gross abuse of the parameters (for the exemption),” he said.
He suggested deleting the exemption, so all sales made in the borough would be taxed.
Later, Henry speculated that some stores may be sending customers out to the street to make cell phone calls (using out-of-state numbers) to order certain items that were seen in the store.
He said it may be difficult to investigate the alleged abuses.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
LAST LIGHTS - The Statendam lights up the Broadway Dock puddles on the final ship day of the season, while the Serenade of the Seas slips away in the background. Photo by Jeff Brady