November 13, 2009 • Vol. XXXII, No. 20
Surrounded By Demons
Micah Cook, dressed as Star Wars bounty hunter Jango Fett, is surrounded by a freaky pirate with a long beak and a mad body snatching doctor in the haunted house at the Rec. Center’s Halloween Carnival. It was a scary time to be in Skagway. See more frightful photos on page 5 of our print edition. Photo by Jeff Brady
No place to park soon for campers, RV travelers?
Campgrounds enter period of uncertainty
By ANDREW CREMATA
Not every Skagway tourist makes his or her way to town via cruise ship. Many summer season visitors utilize the Klondike Highway when travelling to Skagway to take in the sights, enter a softball tournament, or simply enjoy a holiday weekend of fishing or hiking. Many of these visitors utilize one of Skagway’s three RV Parks during their stay.
A number of seasonal residents also rent space at the various facilities to park a trailer or pitch a tent during the summer months. These spaces provide a temporary home for workers and help businesses provide much-needed employee housing.
The future of these RV parks is currently in question due to a variety of circumstances. While it remains unclear if and when the parks might close, it is entirely possible all three could cease to exist as of October 2011.
Between April 1 and October 3, 2009, highway traffic accounted for 67,282 visitors to Skagway. While many choose to rent a room at one of Skagway’s hotels or B&Bs, RV parks offer a cheaper alternative for campers and provide space for those travelling in RVs.
Mountain View RV Park offers space for both, and provides communal laundry and shower services for weekend travelers and seasonal residents alike. The park currently occupies 18 lots at the north end of Broadway; 12 are owned by parent company Alaska Travel Adventures, and six are leased from White Pass.
ATA President Kelli Dindinger said via telephone the company currently has two lots for sale between 13th and 14th Ave. for $65,000 each, and would “entertain offers for more of the park.”
“It breaks my heart to think about closing that business,” said Dindinger, who added that the company plans to keep the park operational for the 2010 season.
Dindinger said the reasons why they are selling the property lay squarely on the Municipality of Skagway.
“It’s hard to make a profit when the (municipality) allows people to sleep on the river bank,” she said.
Dindinger said now that the municipality does not own the park, the police are not enforcing code that prohibits camping on municipal land. She said this has caused a reduction in tent campers at the park, and has negatively affected the business.
“That’s an outright lie,” said Police Chief Ray Leggett, who added that the no-public-camping policy was strictly enforced.
Leggett said there were two exceptions to the rule. Boy Scouts who visit in the spring, and R.C.M.P. personnel who visit during the Fourth of July, are allowed to camp on municipal land free of charge. He added that when reports of illegal camping are received the police department acts immediately to direct them elsewhere.
Borough Manager Tom Smith said he found Dindinger’s claim “interesting” as he has not seen any campers on municipal land during his tenure.
Dindinger also claimed they were losing revenue due to the Skagway Recreation Center offering showers at “below market value.” She said people were using Rec. Center showers instead of theirs.
When informed of Dindinger’s comments, Mayor Tom Cochran said via telephone, “I find that very interesting,” adding that people pay a fee for Rec. Center usage and had a right to use the showers as part of that fee.
Dindinger said by selling lots and scaling back they were hopeful the business would again be profitable. She said that the last lots to be sold would be the ones containing the wash pad, allowing them to continue providing full services, even with reduced land.
Municipal code places restrictions on the minimum size for an RV Park at 60,000 square feet, which is equivalent to 12 standard lots. This means that if ATA sold just seven lots they would fall below the minimum requirement, and could no longer operate as an RV park.
“If the (municipality) would help us out by enforcing the no camping ordinance, we can continue to offer space to campers,” said Dindinger.
Current plans for Skagway Small Boat Harbor expansion could affect space at Pullen Creek RV Park. Planned dredging at the north end of the harbor would result in loss of land at the park where the lease with the municipality is set to expire in October 2011.
Smith said that phase of the harbor project is “a little ways off yet,” and added the current plan was one of many and could be scaled back, resulting in little or no impact to the park.
“The current plan is a Cadillac,” said Smith. “But a Ford or Chevy might meet our needs.”
Smith said it was simply too early to tell how Pullen Creek RV Park would ultimately be affected, but recognized it was a “good” park that is popular with tourists and provides a needed service to travelers.
Garden City RV Park contains 24 contiguous lots, the purchase of which is being considered by the municipality. The old Pius X Mission property is owned by the Catholic Church and leased to Garden City RV Park owner John Garland.
Smith said the borough was currently in negotiations to buy the land. If the property is purchased by the municipality it would ultimately result in the closure of the RV Park, Skagway’s largest. During meetings last winter, borough leaders talked about having Garland operate the park during a transition phase.
Cochran said the land would be ideal for various potential municipal projects such as a senior center, a public works building, or perhaps even a scaled-down pool. He said remaining lots could be sold off individually to prospective buyers.
Borough Assembly Finance Chair Dan Henry said a letter was sent by the municipality to the Bishop of the Archdiocese to see if a transaction was viable. Purchase of the property, currently assessed at $1.74 million, remains in limbo.
To date, there has been no response to the letter, and it remains to be seen if the Borough Assembly would ultimately approve the purchase.
The property’s asking price a year ago was $1.85 million. The borough, by code, can offer no more than fair market value.
Cochran and Smith both said there was no interest from the Borough to purchase land at Mountain View RV Park, adding it should be left to the private sector to develop the land.
Municipal employees earn state honors
Harbormaster Matt O’Boyle, Treatment Plant Operator Tim Gladden take home awards
By JEFF BRADY
Two Skagway municipal employees received top state honors from their peers at separate conferences in late October.
Harbormaster Matt O’Boyle was named the Harbormaster of the Year by the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators at its annual conference in Kodiak.
Treatment Plant Operator Tim Gladden was named Wastewater Operator of the Year for systems under population 1,000 at the Alaska Rural Water Association conference in Anchorage.
O’Boyle, who has been the Skagway harbormaster for the past six years, said the announcement at the annual banquet was “a big shock.”
“They started reading a letter from a harbor patron and then called my name,” he said.
The letter was submitted by Bob and Ellie McCreery of Ketchikan. They bring their boat to Skagway every summer and stay a month, O’Boyle said.
In their letter, the couple described the harbor, and had this to say about the harbormaster:
“In the harbor, Matt not only leads and directs, but also performs all duties and works. He has one part-time seasonal employee – but Matt is ‘the guy!’
“Matt’s harbor is always clean, well kept, and inviting. He is “everywhere” on all days, working, looking, examining, cleaning, and checking – ever aware of the whole harbor’s conditions, activity, situations. When there is a sign of difficulty, Matt appears from nowhere with a helping hand and solution. When a city worker cannot care for grounds or sidewalks surrounding the harbor, Matt is there so plants needing watering will flourish and areas requiring tending will remain attractive. In his crowded and busy harbor, Matt works magic to find room for all vessels, finding space where there appears to be none while not compromising accommodation of others already there. Every season, there are improvements in the harbor, even where it did not appear to be deficient. Matt keeps ahead of the game!”
The letter also talked about O’Boyle’s devotion to the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department and called him “a man of upstanding character… a no-nonsense guy with a special way of getting along well with everyone. His rare combination of amicability, talent, willingness to give of self, industry, and sincere devotion to harbor, city, citizens, and visitors is matched by few anywhere. He is strong of character and of body, and is constantly keen to give of himself in ways beyond others.”
O’Boyle said the letter “truly warmed the heart,” and the group also received some information about him from City Hall staff.
“Nobody told me about it,” he said. “It was pretty neat (to receive) in a room full of people you look up to and admire.”
O’Boyle said the best part of his job is the view, but he also enjoys the work, which requires him to be a “jack of all trades, master of none.” He not only manages the harbor, but performs daily maintenance, works on projects, assists various harbor patrons, and performs security when small cruise ships are in port on the municipal side of the ferry float. His management duties also have expanded to the seawalk and new restrooms.
Currently he is working with contractor and engineers on the wave barrier project, which he says is “going real smooth.” Next up for the harbor will be replacing existing floats and dredging in the north end, followed by expansion. He says it is a good idea to do those projects in segments.
O’Boyle thanked the Ketchikan couple and others who supported his nomination, and his partner Shelly Moss.
Gladden received his second statewide honor. A few years ago, he was selected by the Department of Environmental Conservation for “the water award” for his work as the borough’s water systems operator.
Like, O’Boyle, he was surprised when his name was called as a winner at the annual conference, this time as the Wastewater Operator of the Year.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Gladden said. “I guess they called Grant (Lawson, public works foreman) for some information before I left.”
Gladden said he wished the award was for the “best tasting drinking water” but that did not happen this year. He said he can’t remember what they said about him, as “it all went by in a blur.”
Gladden has been the treatment plant operator since 1991, and has been involved in bringing the plant up to stricter federal standards. He has worked on improving systems within the 32-year-old plant, as well as planning bigger system upgrades.
He recently toured plant operations in Washington state and assisted engineers and the Public Works Committee in making recommendations on what upgrade would work best for Skagway. Now that the feasibility study is done, the next step is the engineering phase. There was a site visit on Nov. 10, and proposals from engineering firms are due Dec. 1.
The borough recently received word from Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office that there was $300,000 in the federal budget for the project. The state Legislature has already appropriated $2.5 million. Total project cost has been estimated at $4.86 million, and the borough could apply for matching grant funds from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for the remainder.
Workout program works out for seniors
By ANDREW CREMATA
Sometimes, all it takes to get a program off the ground is for someone to see the need and act. In January 2007 the Skagway Recreation Center starting offering fitness classes for senior citizens. Through a coordinated effort by volunteers from all over the community, and donations from organizations and citizens alike, a scholarship program was implemented to provide the classes free of charge. Over the past two years, the benefit to Skagway seniors has been immeasurable.
Jim Boynton, 66, retired in July of 2008. He had a cholesterol problem and high sugar levels and was determined not to sit around and let the problem get any worse. Boynton started to attend the senior workouts three times a week and in only a year his sugar levels were normal.
“I feel so much better,” said Boynton who continues to be a regular attendee at the Rec. Center along with his wife Robin.
Robin Boynton said the exercise program helped with her balance and considers it the ideal preventative medicine. She said she has seen more and more seniors taking advantage of the classes as it has “become a social thing and a healthy thing.”
Jim Boynton extolled the virtues of the breathing portion of the class and said it has been helping his circulation and stuttering.
The senior fitness classes focus on a half hour of breathing exercises followed by an hour-long workout. The workouts include exercises focusing on every part of the body with a warm up and cool down period.
During a Thursday morning class, Rec. Center employee Donna Powell admonished the gathering of seniors to “feel the burn,” as she directed them through the various routines.
“It’s a good program,” said Powell after the workout. “It’s a fun group. They keep each other in line and they keep us in line.”
Fitness instructor Donna Powell leads senior citizens in exercises at the Skagway Recreation Center. The seniors present did not want their pictures taken, but they were all working pretty hard. Andrew Cremata
The scholarship program has made it possible for any senior to attend the fitness program if they so desire. By simply filling out an application from the lobby of the rec. center, interested parties can obtain a membership free of charge.
The idea for a scholarship program initially came from Tara Mallory, who wanted to get more children involved in dance classes. Eileen Henry approached the Rec. Center Advisory Board about offering senior memberships for free. The two ideas were combined by the board, and a scholarship program was set in place. The next step was finding funding.
Rec. Center Director Katherine Nelson, who started the senior fitness program, said Eileen Henry wrote letters to various local charitable entities seeking funding for the scholarship program.
Skagway’s Elks lodge was the first to respond, followed by the Emblem Club, the Eagles and the Eagles Auxiliary. Over time other sponsors such as White Pass and some local individuals have also donated to the program. In February, a dessert auction raised $440.
Nelson said Henry was an “incredible motivator” in getting seniors to attend the classes. She said Henry would go to the senior luncheons with her mother Noreen to talk up the program. Slowly, more seniors started to attend and “eventually they became addicted.”
“Since then, through word of mouth…the class has continued to grow,” said Nelson.
Nelson added that the staff, including Powell, all offer something special to those who attend.
“Everyone seems to walk out with a lighter step and a smile on their face,” she said.
After the Thursday class, Nelson’s words were evident. Jokes were tossed around by the participants and 78-year old Joyce Burnham quipped, “At 79 you shouldn’t have to come anymore.”
John Edwards said the class has helped his weight and has made him more independent.
The Boytons praised those whose donations keep the program free of charge by paying yearly dues.
“It’s good for this small town to have,” said Jim Boynton. “Katherine (Nelson) does a great job. It’s a wonderful program.”
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Assembly teleconferencing passes easily
One of the more hotly debated topics of the fall – assembly teleconferencing – passed with barely a whisper at the Nov. 5 meeting.
During one of the shortest meetings of the year – barely 45 minutes long – assembly members heard no public testimony, and passed the teleconferencing ordinance on a 4-0 vote after little debate.
The ordinance allows the mayor and assembly members to participate via teleconference for up to four meetings per calendar year, but for no more than two consecutive meetings. There has to be a quorum of at least four assembly members established in the chambers in Skagway, and no more than two can participate via teleconference at one time. If the mayor is one of the two, then the vice mayor in Skagway would preside. The only part of a meeting that teleconference participants would be excluded from is an executive session, as well as any resulting vote after an executive session.
Mayor Tom Cochran said the topic had been thoroughly discussed at a work session and during first reading, but two members said they had been contacted by the public about the ordinance.
“Some thought four (meetings a year) was too much,” said Dave Hunz, adding that there was nothing in the ordinance about whether the members who participate via teleconference would be paid.
“I was also contacted about whether they should vote (via teleconference),” added Tim Cochran.
Neither member offered amendments to the ordinance, saying they were only passing along comments.
Borough Clerk Marj Harris said that during the work session, it was decided members who participate via teleconference would be paid, and they will have a vote. The borough also will pay for telephone costs, as it would be a connection set up by the clerk to a number provided by the member with a minimum 48 hours notice.
Mayor Cochran urged members to give the ordinance a try and see how it works.
Mark Schaefer said he would have liked to have voted against the ordinance “for the constituents who don’t want it, but (a no vote) would kill it, so I will give it a try.”
It passed on a vote by all four members present: Hunz, Tim Cochran, Schaefer, and Paul Reichert. Members Colette Hisman and Dan Henry were excused.
From here on out, such 4-0 votes may be a thing of the past, especially in winter.
The ordinance was introduced last month after a previous version offered by former member Dennis Corrington failed in September. His original ordinance would have allowed unlimited teleconferencing during winter months, but other members and several citizens said that could have opened up the assembly to residents who don’t live in Skagway year-round. During the debate on that version, the mayor and assembly members said they would be willing to look at a more restrictive ordinance that would allow participation by members who may be traveling and having trouble getting home for a meeting. Before leaving the assembly, Corrington hashed out new language with members in a work session, resulting in a new ordinance that would allow assembly members to attend up to four meetings a year via teleconference, but no more than two consecutive meetings.
Members said the more restrictive ordinance was worth trying, and should help with situations like last winter, when there were several meetings with just four members present and votes on some important topics were delayed.
The new ordinance, which was introduced Oct. 15, also included some recommendations from the borough attorney.
An entirely new section on executive sessions, basically lifted from state law, was added to code. It also prohibits the recording of executive sessions.
No West Creek grant this year
The borough’s Finance Committee has recommended against the municipality resubmitting a request to the Alaska Energy Authority for grant funds to initiate a West Creek Hydro feasibility study.
The municipality partnered with Alaska Power and Telephone last year on such a request, and the $295,000 feasibility study was recommended last March for partial funding by AEA, but state funds ultimately went to other projects.
Recently, AP&T asked the borough if it wanted to resubmit the application for the next round of AEA renewable energy grants, which were due Nov. 10. Mayor Tom Cochran said it was short notice, but he and Borough Manager Tom Smith discussed it and brought it to the Finance Committee last week.
“At Finance, it was pretty much a no go,” Cochran told the borough assembly on Nov. 5.
A planned public meeting on the West Creek hydro idea has yet to take place, he noted, but he said the decision had more to do with the municipal budget.
“The $59,000 local match is not in our budget,” he said.
Cochran said there were other parts of the application that raised flags, or that the borough should have questions about.
The original application proposed a municipal project for a West Creek dam or run-of-the-river project that would generate enough power to allow one-to-three cruise ships to plug in at the port. The borough also would have to kick in between $1.397 and $1.657 million during the design phases, according to the application. State grants would fund 80 percent of the $127-$140 million project with cruise ship tax money, and the municipality’s 20 percent would come from municipal bonds. However, the net revenue would be shared 50/50 between the state and the municipality. The application stated other financing arrangements could be evaluated.
The cruise ships would buy the power, and AP&T would likely be contracted to build and manage the facility. The borough paid AP&T $10,000 to prepare the application a year ago, but during recent discussions with AP&T about regional hydro alternatives in the area, assembly members questioned whether there was public support for the project.
Mayor Cochran recommended holding a town meeting, in which AP&T would present maps of the area showing how big a dam would be constructed up West Creek and how big a lake would be created behind the dam.
Cochran said that meeting likely will not be scheduled until January. – JB
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
District hires Teagan Baldwin for DDF coach
The Skagway School Board in special session on Tuesday night voted 4-0 to hire local resident Teagan Baldwin as the new Drama, Debate and Forensics coach. Her hire was recommended by Superintendent Les McCormick after an interview. She was the only applicant.
The decision came two weeks after the board, upon hearing from a room full of DDF supporters, voted to move forward with restoring the program and hiring a coach. This came after McCormick initially recommended that a coach should not be hired this year since only one high school student was planning to be active for all meets.
However, at the earlier meeting, there was interest from three or four other students in getting involved, and some parents suggested extending DDF into the junior high to keep the program going. After the Oct. 27 vote to reinstate the program, there was a 10-day advertising period.
Baldwin has already been in the school helping former coach Kent Fielding prepare four students for a meet in Sitka this weekend. Fielding, the English teacher who started the successful program, decided not to coach this year so he could spend more time at home with his family. He has said he will assist Baldwin with students as a volunteer.
Board approves Petersburg virtual tour
The board on Nov. 10 also approved sending McCormick and district technology coordinator Rick Hess to Petersburg this week to observe a Virtual High School program at work in its school.
Petersburg is one of two high schools in Alaska using the Massachussetts-based program, which McCormick hopes to utilize in Skagway starting the second semester.
“They are set up to greet us, show us how it works, and have us watch a live class,” McCormick said, adding that Hess will visit with Petersburg’s technology coordinator.
Skagway already has the video conferencing equipment for the program. It was obtained through a foreign language grant a few years ago. McCormick said he hopes to have someone live talking to Skagway students and parents about the program at the School Community Forum in January.
Then, in the second semester, students could go online to take live courses. Later on, Skagway would supply a teacher to broadcast courses, which would lower the district’s cost. Students also could take year-long advanced placement courses next year, he said. – JB
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
HOE DOWN TIME– Benjamin Burnham and his mom Willeke (in back) swing under a bridge made by Greg and Billi Clem at the annual Have a Heart Hoe Down organized by the K-8 students and teachers. This year’s dinner and square dance proceeds went to the Hearts and Hands Across the Americas program. The children supplied artwork for quilts made locally, and every $25 raised will help educate a child in Bolivia. Photo by Jeff Brady