November 12, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 20

Halloween Harmonizing

Skagway elementary students dressed up as creatures cute and creepy for the annual Halloween Parade and then led a sing-along of scary songs. See more Halloween photos on page 5 of our print edition.

Photo by Jeff Brady

Ordinance introduced to ban smoking in public areas

Assembly tables proposal for HEW review, public input


When does smoking cross the line of a private right and become a public nuisance?
Skagway officials will have to decide that when they vote on how far to take a proposed smoking ban ordinance within the next few weeks.
Officially called the “Secondhand Smoke Pollution Control” ordinance, it is currently modeled after a similar Anchorage ordinance and would prohibit smoking inside any enclosed public area such as bars, restaurants, retail stores, businesses, and health care or recreational facilities, as well as any borough owned or controlled building or vehicle.
The ordinance (No. 10-17) as currently drafted also applies to private clubs licensed for the sale of alcoholic beverages such as the Eagles and Elks clubs.
The old way of establishing smoking and nonsmoking areas in restaurants is no longer a viable option.
“As you know, the Sweet Tooth had smoking and nonsmoking for many years, pretending smoke didn’t have a mind of its own,” said Assemblywoman Colette Hisman who is proposing passage of the ordinance. “We need to be mindful of the effects of it for people who don’t wish it.”
Beth Smith, who runs the Pizza Station bar and restaurant, addressed the Assembly members regarding aspects of the proposed ordinance.
“I wanted to add a suggestion,” Smith said, “perhaps you could do it for restaurants only, and start smaller to give people time to adjust.”
Smith said she just recently went smoke-free at the Pizza Station during the dinner hours of 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and a lot of customers “are thrilled about it.” However, she said she had already heard a lot of complaints from other faithful customers who smoke and do not want to see the Pizza Station go completely smoke-free.
“There are still a lot of community members who are smokers,” she said. “I’m just looking for some type of compromise. I’m hoping for a compromise instead of across-the-board no smoking. At least start small and maybe in a year, come back and change it.”
At the very least, Smith said she would like to keep smoking privileges for her outside patio and deck area. However, the way the ordinance is currently written, smoking would be forbidden within five feet from any outside portion of the deck or patio of premises licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises.
Mayor Tom Cochran, who is a smoker and acknowledged he is a member of every private club in town, said his only problem with the proposed ordinance are the two different provisions regarding private clubs. One provision currently bans smoking in private clubs altogether while another only bans it for public events held at a private club.
“The private club should decide on its own if they allow smoking,” Cochran said.
Hisman said she favored allowing each club’s membership to decide whether to allow smoking during member-only events but mandate no smoking at any events a private club may host that are open to the public.
Assemblyman Dan Hunz said he would vote no on the current section of the ordinance that would prohibit smoking inside “every enclosed area” within a place of employment.
“If it’s private property, then what is done should be up to them (employers),” Hunz said. “I feel it’s my business and it’s my choice whether I allow my employees to smoke there or not. Now, public property is a completely different story.”
A letter from Sharon Bolton of Bolton Data Processing was also submitted asking the Assembly to better define “the public” as it pertains to individual people in the proposed ordinance.
“I own a business and I smoke in my building,” Bolton states in her letter. “My office is a stand alone building. I have neither ‘employees’ nor any ‘volunteers’ working for me. Under normal circumstances, only my clients and friends enter the office. Are they the public?”
Bolton also stated that she believes the proposed ordinance is “too ill defined and far-reaching in its effort to limit exposure to secondhand smoke.”
Enforcement of the proposed ordinance was not discussed at the Nov. 4 Assembly meeting but currently calls for a $100 fine for anyone found smoking in a prohibited area and a $100 fine for a first violation for owners, managers or employers who control a public place.
Assemblyman Dan Henry suggested via teleconference that the first reading of the proposed ordinance be tabled until a public meeting could be held on the idea, noting there were several sections in the current proposal that need to be revised or better defined.
Hisman agreed and moved to table it until a Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting set for 5 p.m. Nov. 29 at City Hall. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input.
“The safest and best course at this time would be to table it to committee meeting, hammer it out a bit further and bring it back,” she said.
First reading of the ordinance is now scheduled to occur at the Dec. 2 assembly meeting.

Thomas wins big in Skagway, District
Other races much tighter; voters reject Prop. 1


Skagway voters on Nov. 2 helped send Bill Thomas back to the State Legislature for his fourth and possibly final two-year term. The Haines Republican’s political future will depend on whether District 5 is eliminated in the upcoming reapportionment process, and where Skagway and Haines land in redrawn districts.
While local voters here were solidly Thomas, giving him 203 votes to Cordova Democrat Robert Beedle’s 121, they narrowly rejected Proposition 1, which would have amended the state constitution to allow four more seats in the House and two more in the Senate. If passed, the proposition would have preserved some of the current rural seats, but it failed by a 161-155 count here, and the district and statewide margin was much wider.
In an interview Nov. 4, Thomas said he was happy to be able to return to Juneau, but not surprised by the outcome of the proposition, which he co-sponsored.
“I’m happy that people listened to our record and what we are able to do for the district and that they were able to see that,” he said.
He said voters were all “afraid of big government” in this election, but didn’t realize that the proposition’s passage would “protect” their rural voice.
“Maybe they want an urban voice, maybe they want to get rid of me,” he joked. “Some people thought $2 million a year (for the six seats) was too much, but I think in the long run they would have felt better off.”
Even knowing now that he could have just two years to accomplish things, Thomas said he will not change how he works. But he said this election made people realize there is a need for more early voting stations in small communities and using mail-in ballots, so he will be working on legislation to assist that process while it is fresh in everyone’s minds.
Addressing some of his opponent’s criticisms of him, he said he will continue to work on energy issues. “My opponent did not seem to be aware that we put in $300 million for renewable energy grants,” Thomas said.
He said he will work with fellow Southeast legislators on support for the ferry system, but that he does not believe a new ferry has to be built in Ketchikan. He said if it can be built in Alaska, that would be great, but not if it takes twice the time as building it somewhere else.
Thomas was in Anchorage for legislative organization meetings at the time of the interview and said it looks as though he will keep his seat on the Finance Committee, and continue to write the DOT, Fish and Game, and Administration department budgets. He said people may contact him any time about concerns with those departments.
He closed by noting that, “unlike what some people say, my office is not overwhelmed by lobbyists.” He said he is looking forward to returning in January. “I appreciate everybody’s support and confidence in me and my staff. They respond.”
Districtwide, the preliminary vote before absentee counting was 2,583 for Thomas and 1,531 for Beedle. Thomas carried 15 of the 17 precincts, with Beedle winning just his hometown and Tenakee.
Beedle said he felt he received a positive response in all of the communities he visited, but the weather last month made it tough for him to get around. He said he did “fantastic” for a first time candidate with little name recognition outside Cordova, and thought he had a chance. He said the weather improved by the time he got to Skagway and he was able to spend two days here.
“I thought I would do a lot better,” he said. “I thought I would win.”
He said he is unsure if he will run again after redistricting. He said people probably did not understand the proposition, as it was “overshadowed by the US Senate race and other issues.”
He concluded, “I’d really like to thank everyone for their support and their votes. I regret not being able to represent the people. It would have been a great honor. It’s a really neat district and I hate to see it change.”
All the other candidates were in tight races in Skagway. Local voters gave Sitka Democrat Scott McAdams the nod over the presumed write-in Lisa Murkowski, 130 to 117, while Republican Joe Miller garnered just 79 votes. Local election official Barb Brodersen said she was relieved not to have to recount all those ballots. They will be counted in Juneau this week. Incumbent Murkowski presumably has most of those write-in votes and has a sizable lead statewide.
In the governor’s race, incumbent Republican Sean Parnell’s pro-cruise ship stance did not propel him to victory here, as Democrat Ethan Berkowitz won 162 to 160. Parnell won big statewide.
And long-time U.S. Rep. Don Young withstood yet another challenger, beating Democrat Harry Crawford 178 to 151 in Skagway, en route to a huge win statewide.
While Skagway voters narrowly rejected the proposition for expanding the Legislature, it gave strong support to the propositions for veterans mortgage bonds and education facility bonds.
Overall, 325 cast ballots in Skagway (not including absentees), less than the 392 in the recent municipal election. A complete breakdown of how Skagway voted can be found on our website and will be updated when more returns come in from the Division of Elections.


Skagway Public Library needs support to expand


Skagway Public Library needs to show it has strong community support to qualify for state, federal and private foundation grants to pay for a $900,000 expansion.
Librarian Julene Fairbanks estimates about $20,000 in community donations will be needed to show that Skagway residents support their library and the expansion.
Fairbanks and library board members Wendy Anderson, Jeanne Gonzalez and Shanna Thomas met Nov. 2 to discuss ways to raise the needed funds in fun and unique ways.
An auction to have Sarah Palin record a message for the winner’s answering machine, a vacation raffle, winter carnival, holiday brunch, Christmas gift card donations made in someone’s name, a personal services auction, paying $1 to put someone’s name on a stocking or ornament to be placed on a wall inside Fairway Market, and a youth read-a-thon were among the ideas the group discussed.
“If all else fails, there’s always the lingerie show,” Thomas suggested, drawing some laughter from the group. Thomas said she attended one recently where both women and men modeled lingerie, “wearing whatever they were comfortable with” that raised $5,000.
The possibility of soliciting larger donations from cruise ship and mining transport companies was also discussed.
The board noted a large number of cruise ship tourists and crew members typically descend upon the library to use the free Wi-Fi while they are in town, so many are already receiving library services on a regular basis during the summer season.
Another idea board members decided they might want to pursue is using movie showings to generate some interest as well as providing additional entertainment options to Skagway residents. These could happen as soon as the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
As a non-profit organization, the library has already paid a licensing fee and can pick from a large number of movie titles that can be shown in exchange for donations from the public. However, Fairbanks explained the library is not allowed to advertise the name of the movie it selects to show outside the confines of the library.
Gonzalez suggested sending out the information directly in a member email newsletter or placing a sandwich board with the name of the movie showing directly outside the library so those who drive by can see it. She also offered the use of her popcorn machine so those who attend can experience more of a movie theater quality.
Fairbanks said the sign would work but she would be hesitant to start a regular email newsletter because she didn’t want library staff to have to spend extra time maintaining it. Gonzalez suggested volunteers might be able to manage it and said she’d be willing to help with such a project.
A holiday brunch and a read-a-thon to be held over the upcoming Skagway School District’s Christmas break were cited as good immediate possibilities as well as the charitable Christmas gift donation that could be made in someone’s name.
The board plans to meet again late this month to further discuss which fundraising opportunities to go with and hopes to have a quorum present so some financial decisions can be made. A presentation from a pre-development consultant will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 30.
“Getting accepted into this pre-development program, I think, is huge,” Fairbanks said. “There’s a lot we’re going to get out of it without having to put up any money.”
The consultant will help the library target which grants to pursue.
Design plans for the proposed expansion are currently on display in the library and some of the amenities include two stories, a glass wall, and a fireplace in a reading room.
Additional space where library patrons would be able to hold small meetings is also included in the design.
“This building is going to be much more welcoming, and make them want to come in,” Fairbanks said. “Little extras like the fireplace in the reading room will make them want to stay.”
Grant deadlines and award dates will dictate a majority of the project’s timeline.
Fairbanks said she would like to break ground on the project within a year, and hopes to hear whether Skagway Public Library is awarded a state grant by the end of the legislative session in April 2011.

Bears still testing town

 More bear sightings have been reported around the north side of town and the Dyea Road area.
Jan Nelson said his daughter, Karen, told him she saw a “pretty good size brown bear” on their porch this past weekend.
The bear had apparently gotten into some dog food stored in a trash can on his porch sometime during the night of Nov. 6, Nelson said. The bear tipped the can over and was able to get some out. However, when the bear came back after some more dog food the next morning, the garbage can had been removed, and Nelson said his dog scared the bear away.
Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett said there have been several more reports of bear sightings in November including one of a smaller black bear and a larger brown bear.
“We’re trying to get to haze him,” Leggett said, regarding the black bear. “He’s hungry and trying to find the garbage.”
Leggett explained that if officers come into contact with either of the bears, they plan to fire some rubber rounds “to encourage him to find another place to tour.”
Most people know what to do if they encounter a bear, Leggett said.
“If you just bang on something, he’s usually off and running,” he said.
Until last weekend, bear activity had been relatively quiet for a two-week period after one was shot by hunters up the east hillside. – GD

METAL MAPPER – Sjoerd Thoonsen, a visitor from The Netherlands, joined volunteers with the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council on Nov. 6 to locate metal objects in the Skagway River flood plain for a clean-up project this week. Gayle Deaton

Metal debris removed from river under TIWC grant

Local environmentalists such as A. J. Conley are eager to see that a significant amount of scrap metal debris is finally going to be removed from the Skagway River.
“There’s been so much put in the river over the years,” said Conley who was recently named office administrator for the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council. “It’s just exciting to be able to get in there and take out a good amount.”
A $29,000 grant awarded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Conservation Program will pay for the debris removal project. Former Taiya Inlet Watershed Council Executive Director Alicia Wendlandt submitted the grant application before she resigned, Conley said.
The Taiya Inlet Watershed Council is an independent nonprofit organization aimed at improving area watershed conditions.
Removing the metal debris will not only improve the aesthetics of the Skagway River but it will also improve fish habitat and make the area much safer for those using the river for recreational or training purposes.
For example, Conley said she experienced getting snagged on metal debris when she took a swift water class as a volunteer with the fire department.
“It can be quite a hazard for people,” she said.
But no more.
This is something people have wanted to see addressed for a long time that is finally getting addressed, Conley said. Area residents support for the project was recorded in the Municipality of Skagway’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan published last February, which states, “The majority of Skagway residents (70 percent) think it is somewhat or very important to remove metal debris from the Skagway River.”
Conley said volunteers were asked to meet Saturday afternoon Nov. 6, to help with the project by walking along a mile and a half area of the riverbank and marking locations on maps where they could see metal debris.
Taiya Inlet Watershed Council Board President Mark Larsen said Saturday he expected several participants.
“They are civic-minded folk,” Larsen said. “People in Skagway tend to come out for this sort of thing.”
A couple visiting from The Netherlands joined the dozen or so local volunteers who showed up to help.
Iris DeVries and Sjoerd Thoonsen found themselves recruited to join the project over coffee shortly after rolling into town to “couch surf” in Skagway for a couple of days.
“We just arrived this morning,” DeVries said. “We met a girl in the coffee shop who told us about this, and it sounded like an interesting thing to do.”
Hunz and Hunz, a local construction company, will review maps from the volunteers and remove metal debris from the same area of the Skagway River starting Tuesday, Nov. 9. Joe Coveno is in charge of the project.
“H&H is actually donating the equipment rental services,” Conley said, “which is amazing they’re doing that.”
In addition, Conley said the TIWC also received an $11,000 grant award through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Conservation Program to fund future efforts to establish a stream setback ordinance.

BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)

New school budget dates adopted by assembly
 The Skagway School District will submit its budget earlier in 2011 following the assembly’s Nov. 4 unanimous adoption of an ordinance changing the date of submittal of the annual school budget to the municipality from April 15 to February 15 or the first Monday following Feb. 15 of each year.
Skagway School Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said the school will make the necessary adjustments to abide by the new dates. “We’re going to work with them,” he said.
The ordinance also now states that if the assembly does not within 90 days furnish the school board with the statement of the sum to be available, the amount requested in the budget is automatically approved. The previous amount of time allotted before an automatic approval was granted was 30 days, but Assemblyman Dan Hunz proposed changing it to 90 days to conform with deadlines for other borough departments.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran, who originally suggested an earlier deadline, said Superintendent Thielbar originally did not favor the increase from 30 to 90 days but eventually relented and agreed to it.
“By having the 90 days, it’s actually a longer process for us to get that information back when the whole point was to get the information sooner,” Thielbar explained, “but we’re fine with it. I hope although they do have the 90 days, they don’t have to take the 90 days. We could certainly use that knowledge sooner.”
Last year’s date of April 15 presented problems for the school district because tenured teacher contracts had to be offered by March 15 and the borough was unwilling to fund all of the district’s requests.
The ordinance states the reason for the date change was to give assembly members more time to review the school budget prior to its adoption.
The theory is by changing the budget submittal date to Feb. 15, it will allow a budget to be ready by March 15 and give both the assembly and the school until May 15 to make any necessary amendments to reflect costs such as insurance and retention or non-retention of non-tenured staff. – GD

Sales tax holiday starts Nov. 26
 Residents will have a sales tax holiday this year that begins on “Black Friday” Nov. 26 and extends past the Christmas season and well into the new year. It applies to all retail sales.
The beginning date was originally set for Dec. 1 so it would fall at the beginning of a month, but the Finance Committee opted for an earlier start to help kick-start the Christmas season for local businesses. The holiday will extend to the end of February.
Resident Candace Wallace asked the committee to consider branching the holiday beyond retail sales to include rent and utilities.
“The need is not only for businesses, but for the people that stay here,” she said.
But committee chair Dan Henry said the reduction in the winter sales tax from 4 percent to 3 percent a few years ago was done to help winter residents. Assemblyman Tim Cochran noted that seniors also have property taxes exempt up to $250,000 on their homes, and that no one pays sales tax on heating fuel. Gas for cars falls under a retail sale during the tax holiday.
The committee was unwilling to change the structure, and the resolution passed the assembly unanimously with no debate. – JB