October 29, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 19
Final Fall Fling
Golden quaking Aspen bend with the wind and blend with remnants of the summer’s fireweed during the last of the fall colors up the Klondike Highway. The leaves are mostly gone now, even in town. Photo by Andrew Cremata
One bear down, one to go?
By ANDREW CREMATA
Skagway residents have one less reason to look over their shoulder at night. A brown bear was killed on Sunday Oct. 17 after numerous reports of the animal being seen around Skagway. However, a larger black bear could still be at large, even though it has not been seen since before the shooting of the brown bear.
“A bear was dispatched,” said Police Chief Ray Leggett via telephone on Monday Oct. 18. Reports of gunfire were first reported to the police at 6:45 p.m. and again at 7:15. Leggett explained that local resident Kevin Grieser shot the bear east of Spring Street near 9th Avenue by the old fish hatchery. He said Grieser’s first shot hit the bear as it was going up the mountain but did not kill it.
Leggett said Grieser then assembled a small posse of local hunters who tracked the injured bear up the mountain by following a trail of blood. The hunters were able to find and kill the bear, although it was unclear who actually fired the final shot. Grieser did not respond to efforts to contact him.
Photos of the dead bear surfaced on the Internet within hours of the bear’s demise, causing some to speculate on the nature of the hunt and whether proper laws were followed.
Leggett said the hunt was legal, even though the bear was initially shot less than 100 feet from neighboring homes. Leggett explained that current shooting boundaries allow for hunting on the east side of the railroad tracks that run parallel to Spring St.
Last year Leggett brought measures to the Borough Assembly that would have extended the hunting boundary 500 feet, but that part of the ordinance was defeated despite a large public outcry.
“It got convoluted at the (assembly) table,” said Leggett.
When asked if someone could discharge a firearm directly across the tracks from the City Hall parking lot, even during an Assembly meeting, Leggett said, “You can stand over there and bust caps till the cows come home.”
After being killed, the bear carcass was taken to the local resident Dean Anderson’s garage. Anderson said the bear hide showed evidence of being previously wounded with bird shot.
Leggett said he was worried about the brown bear in the days leading up to its demise. He said the bear was becoming a daily nuisance, and with Halloween only two weeks away he was planning to contact Fish & Game about taking measures to dispose of it.
Leggett said the department went to great efforts to discourage the bear from foraging in town, but ultimately those efforts had little effect.
He said that similar measures had been taken with a “very large” black bear that was also spotted around town during recent weeks. On Oct. 13, the animal was cornered by a local resident at the Westmark Inn. The bear did damage to the building when it tried to escape, leaving claw makes on the building close to eight feet off the ground. Shots were fired at the bear with a bean bag gun, causing it to flee up Dewey Mountain.
The black bear has been described by eyewitnesses as being larger than the brown bear shot by Grieser. Fish And Game biologist Boyd Porter said via telephone that skull measurements of the brown bear indicate that it was between four and five years old. He said the fact that it was a female in that age range meant it most likely weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.
As of Monday Oct. 25, the black bear had not been seen since the incident at the Westmark, and Leggett said the department was planning to issue a statement to that effect. Leggett said rumors were circulating around town about the black bear being shot and killed, but said they remain unsubstantiated. Leggett said that if the black bear had been dispatched, the hunter could wait 30 days and register the kill in Juneau, away from the sometimes judgmental scrutiny of the public eye.
However, it is also possible countermeasures against the black bear were successful. Either way, with Halloween mere days away, Skagway’s streets will be safer for ghouls and goblins seeking candy. Bear costumes this Halloween would be ill advised.
Leggett said the community should feel good about its bear prevention efforts. He said the bear’s stomach contents showed virtually no garbage and that measures taken last year to prevent problem bears had been largely successful.
“The public has done a good job policing their garbage,” said Leggett.
Leggett said the community should be reminded to call the police department the moment a bear is sighted.
New animal tour stopped by assembly
3-1 vote sides with appellants, citing lack of details in application approved by P&Z
By ANDREW CREMATA
The Borough Assembly, acting as the Board of Adjustment, voted 3-1 not to uphold the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recent approval of a conditional use permit for a new attraction by Alaska Excursions along the Klondike Highway.
Three separate appeals were brought to the municipality by neighboring residents and businesses that cited multiple concerns with the proposed attraction, which would have included a dog mushing demonstration and grizzly bear viewing “zoo.”
Robert Murphy, owner of Alaska Excursions, called his plan for the tour facility “conceptual,” but it was the lack of detailed information on his original application that was cited by board members as the reason they did not uphold P&Z’s original decision.
While a list of various concerns were voiced by the appellants, all three cited potential noise problems as the biggest issue.
Charlotte Jewell, owner of Jewell Gardens which lies adjacent to Murphy’s property, said there were already noise issues with dogs being housed on the lot. She said puppies had gotten loose and the mother was barking, so her employees put the animals back.
Neighboring property owner Kareen Hoover said that she wanted noise mitigated by requiring the dogs be housed at night.
This sentiment was echoed in a letter submitted by Klondike Gold Dredge general manager Tom Hall, who said he was operating a dog sled demonstration tour and had never received a noise complaint. He said that further limits should be placed on the amount of dogs Murphy could have on the property, and that he should be required to house them at night. Hall said his dogs were kept in a kennel at night and offered testimony from multiple respected Iditarod dog mushers that refuted statements made by Murphy to P&Z that housing dogs at night was detrimental to their racing abilities.
Murphy said that he “would love to” build a dog barn to house the dogs, but did not see why he was being required to do so when the Klondike Gold Dredge, who failed to apply for a permit allowing an identical tour, was not required to do so.
Murphy said if he were going to be judged on an allowable use within the commercial zone then everyone else should as well.
Murphy said the idea was a risk and added, “But I am willing to take it. We will be good neighbors.”
Comments from the board focused mainly on the lack of details in Murphy’s original application. The application reads that details such as locations of buildings, construction details, and sewer and water lines must be included in the packet.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he did not see that criteria in the application and Mayor Tom Cochran said it was true that the submitted materials were not “up to snuff.”
Assemblyman Tim Cochran agreed and said that he was not opposed to the idea if the conditions of the application were met.
There were multiple comments leveling criticism toward P&Z for granting an incomplete permit in the first place. Hall and Jewell both said they felt like their concerns were not addressed by P&Z, and Jim Jewell said the application was incomplete and did not live up to the standards of permit applications he had submitted in the past.
Korsmo said he was surprised the application had been accepted and that it had not been more detailed considering Murphy was the chair of P&Z.
During the P&Z meeting, Murphy recused himself due to conflict of interest and Commissioner Matt Deach acted as chair. Deach addressed the Board of Adjustment and said that the use was allowable in the zoning district and said the application was not complete because it was a “flexible plan.”
Deach’s comment was echoed by Murphy who said his permit was unique because the plans were “conceptual” in nature. He added that municipal code would ultimately determine what was allowed and what was not allowed on the property.
Assemblywoman Colette Hisman asked whether other permits had been granted for similar type businesses. Assemblyman Dan Henry said that the gold dredge had a similar tour but he did not think they had permits for it.
Henry addressed Permitting Official David Van Horn and asked if the dredge had a permit for their dog tour. Van Horn said that the dredge did not, and that they were currently obtaining permits for multiple structures on the property where the permitting process had been neglected.
This drew some remarks from Henry saying he was confused as to why one of the appellants of the permit had not obtained permits of his own for an identical tour that was operational for an entire season.
After the meeting, Hall said via telephone that he was currently working with the municipality to get all of his structures into compliance. He said that the structures included “three or four buildings, some lean-to’s, and a bunch of tents.” He added that none of them were “major structures” and many of them had been there for a number of years.
Hall also stated that he was already in possession of a conditional use permit allowing tours on the dredge property, the same one obtained when the facility opened. He said he believed he was within the boundaries of the existing permit to operate the dog sled demonstration tour that began this year.
Van Horn said via email that there was nothing on file with the municipality that indicated a permit was obtained for the dredge’s sled dog demonstration tour. He said that the “disorderly manner with which much permitting has occurred at the Gold Dredge” was unfair to businesses who seek out compliance lawfully. Van Horn added that because there were “numerous structures” on the dredge site that were unpermitted, as well as unpermitted tour operations, that some sort of penalty could be levied against the business.
Van Horn said that there was some gray area involving these kinds of issues as there have been many changes made to municipal code over the last ten years causing some businesses to be confused about what operations are legally permitted. He added that some businesses could also qualify as being “grandfathered in,” and that efforts were being taken by the borough to solve some of these tricky issues.
One of the structures currently unpermitted at the dredge is a 4,250 square foot structure used during the day for the sled dog demonstration tour. The structure was built just before the 2010 tour season.
Van Horn said that Hall was sent a letter stating he was out of compliance on August 24. A reply was received the stating that the dredge was seeking direction on becoming compliant.
Hall said he was not opposed to Alaska Excursion’s obtaining a permit, but he only wanted to see more restrictions placed on the permit limiting the number of dogs and providing a barn to house them at night. He said no complaints were received about dog noise at the dredge throughout the season.
Issues revolving around the bear zoo portion of Alaska Excursion’s facility were largely ignored. Recently, information was made public that Alaska Excursions could not obtain a state permit for the zoo due to the fact the state was not currently accepting permit applications.
Korsmo said he would like to see portions of the permit application dealing with the bear zoo completely eliminated, but Murphy said the state required a municipal permit before they could issue a permit of their own. It was unclear how there could be any requirements from the state when they are not accepting applications.
Ultimately the decision to uphold the permit failed with Henry voting yes and Cochran, Korsmo, and Hisman voting no.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz abstained from proceedings, citing conflict of interest as part owner of the Klondike Gold Dredge and as the property owner on which the facility sits.
Assemblyman Paul Reichert was absent.
No TIGER again
Alaska snubbed in latest round of stimulus projects
By JEFF BRADY
The Municipality of Skagway was unsuccessful with its second application in obtaining coveted federal TIGER grant funds for improvements to the Skagway Ore Terminal and dock.
Mayor Tom Cochran made the announcement at the Oct. 21 assembly meeting, a day after the U.S. Department of Transportation released its list of more than 70 projects it would be funding under the TIGER II program.
“I thought we had a pretty good chance,” Cochran said, adding that the borough had worked with stakeholders and refined an earlier application.
“We’ll regroup,” he said. “We still have a request into the governor for $10 million…. In the future we might want to look into a bond issue.”
The TIGER II program funded 75 projects totaling $600 million. This included 42 capital projects ranging in size from $1 million to $47 million, and another 33 smaller planning projects. Projects were funded in 40 states, but none were funded in Alaska this time around.
The News inquired as to why the Skagway project was not funded, and why no funds were coming to Alaska.
A spokesman with USDOT said the department will release project evaluations for all applicants in about two weeks.
A USDOT press release said it received nearly 1,000 applications totaling $19 billion. Back in February, the first wave of TIGER (Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery) funding drew $60 billion worth of project requests for a $1.5 billion program. Only one project, a loading ramp in Juneau, was funded in Alaska.
Originally, Skagway requested federal funds for a four-phase $117 million Gateway Project proposed in the TIGER I application.
Skagway scaled back its request in the TIGER II funding request to $11.5 million in federal funds for a $44.4 million project that included a new ship loader at the ore terminal and an expanded ore dock to handle cruise ships and ore ships at the same time.
The department has put in a request before Congress for another round of TIGER funds, but any decision will have to wait until members return after the mid-term elections next week.
Buckwheat Donahue poses with award presenters Lorene Palmer and Sheila Dodd. ATIA photo
Big Denali award for Donahue
Skagway Tourism Director Carlin “Buckwheat” Donahue was honored with the visitor industry’s prestigious Denali Award at the annual Alaska Travel Industry Association conference in Whitehorse earlier this month.
According to ATIA, the award is presented to a “living individual for his or her outstanding leadership, professional excellence, and personal contribution to the Alaska travel industry.”
Donahue was nominated for the award by two of his colleagues in the region, Lorene Palmer of the Juneau CVB and Sheila Dodd of the City of Whitehorse.
During a luncheon presentation, they read from a series of “Buckwheat Chronicles” compiled at their request by News editor Jeff Brady, who was able to keep the secret from Donahue. It started with his first visit to the community in the early 1980s and winning the Fourth of July watermelon seed spitting contest.
Donahue was totally surprised. He said he was going over notes about whom he needed to see – not really paying attention to the speakers – until he heard “watermelon seed spitting” and “realized they were talking about me.”
They chronicled his start-up of the Buckwheat Ski Classic to draw more women to town, his passion for Robert Service poetry which began with Elderhostel performances, helping start the Dyea to Dawson Centennial Race which evolved into the Yukon River Quest, becoming tourism director and holding the position since 1999, his “Heartbeat Trail” walk and paddle across the continent in 2005-06, and numerous ideas from world record egg tosses to writers conferences.
The ATIA saluted a man famous for his howl with a big one in his honor.
“It’s an honor to receive the Denali Award, which is not given every year,” Donahue said later. “They usually give it to old people, and I got it.”
Ron Peck, the executive director of ATIA, said Donahue was very deserving of the Denali Award.
“He’s done a lot of things for Alaska as a destination and for Skagway as a community,” Peck said.
Donahue said the award energized him. After the conference, he hit the road for three weeks, attending other conferences and joining the Alaska Media Road Show in California. He will be back in Skagway at the end of the week.
Princess to return ship to Alaska in 2012
After two years operating just three ships on its Voyage of the Glaciers route, Princess Cruises announced Oct. 14 that it will be returning a fourth ship to its signature Alaska itinerary for the 2012 summer season.
The decision by Princess to increase its Alaska capacity was prompted, in part, by recent changes to the head tax structure in the state and the more balanced approach to doing business in Alaska, according to the line in a press release.
“We are particularly appreciative of the efforts of Governor Sean Parnell and the Alaska state legislature that have resulted in meaningful progress toward resolving the challenges facing Alaska’s recovery as a cruise destination,” said Alan Buckelew, president and CEO of Princess Cruises. “We still have work to do, but the recent changes definitely played a part in this decision.”
Buckelew pointed out that bringing a fourth ship back to the Gulf of Alaska route has wide economic impacts from Southeast Alaska to Prudhoe Bay.
“Because the one-way route lends itself to longer visitor stays, with visits to both the interior and Southeast Alaska, we calculate it has twice the potential economic impact of roundtrip cruises,” he said.
“We are especially pleased to be able to announce this additional capacity to our business partners and supporters throughout Alaska who have worked tirelessly to advocate for a more positive business climate,” Buckelew added. “They have improved the investment environment for all cruise lines and for all cruise dependent businesses throughout the state.”
Princesses’ Voyage of the Glacier itinerary is the line’s most popular Alaska itinerary, taking passengers between Vancouver and Whittier across the Gulf of Alaska with a visit to Glacier Bay and ports of call in Southeast. Because many passengers on this one-way route usually spend extra time in Alaska’s interior utilizing Princess’ lodges, rail and motorcoaches, this itinerary provides significant tourism benefits to the state.
Full details of Princess’ 2012 Alaska deployment will be announced in spring 2011, including which ship will be added to the lineup.
The decision is expected to return 45,000 passengers to the state, said Governor Parnell in a separate release.
“I am extremely pleased that Princess has demonstrated confidence in Alaska’s business climate by adding another ship in 2012,” he said.
The legislation proposed by the governor and passed by the legislature reduced the head tax from $46 to $34.50 per passenger. Parnell reached out to cruise companies last winter in an effort to reverse a decline in visitor traffic since 2008.
“Given the recent declines, this announcement goes a long way towards restoring the health of visitor industry businesses throughout our state,” said Susan Bell, commissioner for the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Several years ago, Bell was a Princess representative in Skagway.
CHERRY ON TOP – L.C. Cassidy and Si Dennis Jr. take a moment to pose with the restored “Acroterion” atop the original White Pass Railroad Building which is headquarters for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Cassidy called it the “cherry on top” of the structure, considered by many to be one of the finest neo-classical facades in all of Southeast Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush preservation crew consisted of locals Eve Griffin and Cassidy. The restoration of the acroterion was done by Joe Zuccanini of Duncan’s Ltd. in Whitehorse. Dennis claimed he had nothing to do with it, but photos prove otherwise. Andrew Cremata
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Big Dippers up and running
“All is good over there,” said Health, Education and Welfare chair Colette Hisman at the Oct. 21 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting.
Hisman, who helped local seniors set up in the Little Dippers Daycare building for the winter, said there has been a good turn-out so far. She invited everyone to an open house on Friday, Oct. 29 from 3 to 5 p.m.
Hisman thanked Public Works for making the ramp easier to navigate for wheel chairs. “They came the next day and fixed it,” she said.
The assembly approved a request from the cribbage club to play its games in the senior center on Saturdays, a day when it is not in use.
Hisman said there would be no conflict. “It’s not just for seniors,” she said.
White Pass seat on commission withdrawn
With little discussion at its October meetings, the assembly passed both readings of an ordinance eliminating the White Pass seat on the Port Commission that it created earlier this year.
Mayor Tom Cochran noted that after discussions with their attorney, it did not make sense for the municipality to grant a seat for one entity. He said that under the recent Memorandum of Understanding with White Pass, the company was welcome to participate in meetings. “We don’t need an ordinance,” he said, noting there are others who sit on the commission from different companies but don’t have designated seats in code.
Newly elected assemblyman Mike Korsmo said that the commission was originally set up on a model from Long Beach, Calif., which recommended that no stakeholders sit on the commission. Later he questioned a recent executive session at a commission meeting on the White Pass lease and port fees.
With White Pass seeking an extended lease, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, he said. “The public should be involved in those discussions.”
Support for expanded ore terminal
At the request of Selwyn Resources, a potential shipper of ore through the port, the Skagway Borough Assembly passed a resolution Oct. 7 stating that it supports the Skagway Ore Terminal being available to “all shippers, upon application, of bulk mine products…” This includes any ore, concentrate or locatable mineral under U.S. Mining Law.
The resolution states that the municipality requires all shippers to follow safety guidelines and shipping laws in Alaska and the U.S.
The resolution was requested by Selwyn to allay investor concerns that Skagway, because of past problems with lead contamination from the Faro mine shipment, would not be open to lead-zinc shipments.
Rather, the resolution states that the assembly “supports the expansion and use of the Skagway Ore Terminal for the shipment of various bulk material and will work cooperatively with users and potential shippers of the Skagway Port.”
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer, attending his last meeting, said handling ore today is very different, and with new regulations there’s not much to worry about.
The assembly also passed a resolution Oct. 7 in support of a Recreational Trails Grant application from the state for continued work on the Upper Lake Trail. Members said they learned a lesson from the last go-round, when the grant funding was well below the bid amounts for the work, which resulted in a rejection of bids and release of the grant funds, stalling the project for a year. – JB
SCHOOL REPORT (complete digest in print edition)
School business manager resigns
Skagway School District business services manager Kathy Pierce has submitted her resignation, effective Dec. 31.
The school board accepted the resignation at Tuesday night’s board meeting and will immediately post the position for two weeks.
School Superintendent Jefferie Thielbar said he hoped to have the position filled in time for the new business services manager to have 30 days to work with Pierce before she leaves the district. The salary range will begin at $35,000 per year, depending on experience.
Thielbar and board members praised Pierce’s “awesome” service to the district over the past 8.5 years and wished her well.
“She’s done an outstanding job, and last year, with 13 budget proposals, she was unbelievable,” said board member Joanne Korsmo.
“She kept her chin up through all that and did not break,” added board president Chris Ellis.
Pierce was away on a brief medical leave this week and unavailable for comment about her resignation. After the meeting, Thielbar said the resignation was not due to health reasons. He said she had talked about retiring ever since he came to the district this summer. The board voted to send her flowers while she is in the hospital.
New motto added to board goals
During a special meeting earlier this month, the board crafted a motto for the district, and then added a word after staff input. At the Oct. 29 meeting, the board added it to its 2011-12 goals. It will be listed under the heading: “Motto – We Educate the Whole Child, Physical, Social, Emotional, and Intellectual.”
Other than that, the goals are identical to last year’s with one exception. Board member Joanne Korsmo asked to remove “work with SDC for developing a boarding house to increase enrollment” from its “obtainable measures” section. She said she personally liked the idea, but she and others at the table felt the idea did not have support in the community and was something the board could not do.
Members supported keeping the obtainable goal of working with the borough to set up a task force to work on increasing enrollment, as well as promoting the school, and using its website as a channel of communication.
After the re-election of Darren Belisle, the board voted to keep its previous slate of officers. – JB