Skiing in the Big Time

Members of the Skagway Ski Club and adult volunteers hit the trail at the Marsh Lake Ski Loppet last Saturday in the Yukon. Those participating were “Atoms” Yasha Saldi, Elena Saldi, Devin Fairbanks, Anna Korsmo, Kaylie O’Daniel, and Hannah O’Daniel; “Pee Wees” Emily Herbig, Quinn Weber, Michael Brown, and Andrew Jones; “Mini Midgets” Cody Burnham, Tyler Forrester, Christopher Burnham, and Teslyn Korsmo; and “Midgets” William Bumbalough, Ryan Forrester, Madeleine Nyhagen, and Nichole Thomas. Skagway Ski Club Photo

Conceptual dock plans presented
Skagway civil engineer Paul Taylor unveiled four conceptual dock plans before the Skagway City Council and its Pipeline Committee last week, ranging in estimated cost from $14 million to $29 million.
Three of the four concepts would necessitate negotiations with the White Pass and Yukon Route because docks or preferred access would be on tidelands leased by the city to the railway company.
Taylor presented the concepts with Mark Pusich of R&M Engineering of Juneau, the firm hired by the city to develop some waterfront plans in anticipation of a gas pipeline haul. Council voted unanimously to allow them to continue work on the plans to help the city prepare for possible negotiations with White Pass (see tidelands-pipeline story).
While not picking a favorite, Taylor said the two most expensive options – a $25 million renovated ore dock or a new $29 million cargo dock along the river west of the ore terminal – would offer the most freight-handling capabilities. They also could be used by cruise ships to pay back the bonds needed to pay for them. Any option would require a vote of the people, he said.
Here is a breakdown of the four options and their advantages and disadvantages:
• Concept 1: Floating Dock ($24.7 million) - This is the only option that would not require negotiations with White Pass, as it would be an extension of the existing floating barge facility/ferry terminal on city tidelands. At 120’ x 800’ it would be slightly larger than a facility in Valdez. Access to the facility would be a problem because of conflicts with ferry and nearby recreation uses. However, this could be alleviated if the mouth of the Small Boat Harbor were moved to the east of the harbor, allowing easier access over a new breakwater on the west side of the harbor to the city staging area.
• Concept 2: Broadway Dock ($14.3 million) - This would require demolishing and reconstructing the White Pass-owned Broadway Dock so it could handle freight. However, problems with access to a staging area, pedestrian traffic conflicts, limited ship maneuverability, and conflicts with ferries and the Pullen Creek outfall make it the least desirable alternative.
• Concept 3: Ore Dock Expansion ($25.05 million) - Taylor said preliminary talks with AIDEA, owner of the terminal, have indicated they would not object to removal of the ore ship loader to allow the existing dock in that area to be replaced with a world class barge facility with two ramps for maximum unloading capability. Due to the project’s potential for stirring up the lead sulphide in the ore basin, the option proposes, through negotiations with White Pass, that the contaminated material be dredged and placed behind a sheetpile section at the dock’s north end. The northern part of the terminal and uplands controlled by AIDEA also would be used, as the agency has expressed a strong interest in developing a revenue stream for the vacant ore terminal. With this development, the ore dock could still be used to service one large 960’ cruise ship.
• Concept 4: River Dock ($29.27 million) - Taylor’s plan showed this dock beginning at the edge of the White Pass lease, about 100 feet from the existing shoreline, with an access road on state land just south of the new airport terminal parking lot. However, he noted that operations would be easier if the dock and access could begin on the leased tidelands, thus the preference for negotiating with White Pass. The main con for this project could be the permitting phase. Since the dock is adjacent to the river and would require dredging of 400,000 yards (four times what was needed for the airport project) of material to get to a minus-36’ depth, the state may not go for it. And the geo-technical data may not allow dredging to that depth. Any of the four projects assumes no dredging can occur in the summer because of the effects on salmon runs.
A timeline was proposed that assumed negotiations could begin with White Pass soon and conclude by May 1. Taylor suggested that these negotiations be held in public, similar to those held between the city, state and White Pass in the mid-1980s that resulted in an agreement to improve docking facilities for cruise ships. Taylor, who was part of the negotiating team for White Pass then, said they were very productive.
Once these negotiations are completed, a Request For Proposal could be drawn up for designing the preferred alternative, and that design could be ready for a vote of the people in October, Taylor said. Dredging could start next winter, and construction would conclude by Christmas 2002. If the Alaska Highway gas pipeline route is chosen by North Slope producers and given the go-ahead, then the dock would be done just in time for the first pipe barge, he said.
Taylor said the costs were estimated at the high end, so projects could be whittled down in the formal design phase. Concerns were raised in the Pipeline Committee that the city not end up with a “white elephant” if the pipeline doesn’t materialize.
“Conceptually it’s great, but it takes more than a field of dreams to have a participating partner in what you’re doing,” said committee member and White Pass vice president Gary Danielson.
Taylor agreed that a customer base must be sought by the city, targeting higher weight and volume freight like cement, liquor and road salt. Once the higher weight freight starts rolling, there is a potential for bringing in smaller stuff. The opposite is not true, he added, and that’s why the city’s current barge facility has not been able to attract much use beyond Alaska Marine Lines’ weekly barges.
With or without the pipeline, the dock concepts are based on speculation, “but we are going at it from the point of getting back what Skagway used to have,” Taylor said.
The next Pipeline Committee meeting will be a community forum at 7 p.m. on March 6. The city’s Economic Development Commission hopes to have representatives from the Alaska and Yukon governments to sort through all the pipeline speculation. A bill preferring the highway route has been held up in the Legislature waiting for more information from the oil industry.

City asks Tri-White's Sahi to come to town

Council wants to discuss tidelands lease, port projects

Following an executive session last week, the Skagway City Council voted to fire off a letter to Rai Sahi, chairman of White Pass and Yukon Route parent Tri-White Corp., asking him to sit down with them before March 15 to discuss possible changes in the company’s tidelands lease with the city, as well as joint development projects on the waterfront.
The letter, signed by Mayor John Mielke and sent Feb. 16, said communications with White Pass representatives in Skagway on lease issues had been inconclusive, and that WP&YR President Fred McCorriston “has conceded that he is not the last word in such negotiations.”
The letter said the prospective development of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska through Canada “will have significant potential and opportunity for mutual development projects on Skagway’s waterfront.”
The letter continued, “We would like to invite you to meet with us, in the near future, to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing us in the short and long terms. The rapid resolution of lease issues pertaining to environmental and financial considerations, along with laying the framework for cooperative efforts in waterfront development, will be critical to the future of the City of Skagway, White Pass, the community, and the region.”
The city had initiated dialog on opening the 55-year tidelands lease in a letter to McCorriston on Oct. 25. His response was received at City Hall on Jan. 31, prompting the Feb. 14 executive session.
McCorriston’s letter, released prior to the meeting, defended White Pass’s development on the waterfront lease and said the current owners considered the lease terms in how much they paid for the company. The lease isn’t due to expire until 2023.
“Thus, modifying the lease will undermine the economic and financial assumptions on which long-term business decisions were made,” McCorriston wrote. “Nevertheless, I am willing to privately discuss the matter provided there is adequate consideration for any changes made. Furthermore, the City must understand that I do not have final decision-making authority on this subject and any changes will have to be agreed to by Tri-White.”
On specific points the City brought up in its October letter, McCorriston said:
• White Pass is reluctant to add any clauses covering environmental contamination “given the nature of such claims.”
• White Pass is not willing to “grant a right of first refusal, but may consider a right of first offer.” He explained that right of first refusal can make assets unmarketable. On a right of first offer, the city could have first opportunity to purchase the assets before offering them to a third party.
• Tri-White is unlikely to agree to an increase in the rent. The City had asked that the rent increase from six percent of the appraised value to eight percent, the value used for other city leases.
• White Pass would agree to reimburse the city for attorney costs incurred in reviewing the recent subleases approved on the tidelands for Alaska Marine Lines and Temsco. City officials said it came to about $4,700.
Prior to the executive session, former White Pass port manager Tom Cochran strongly advised that the council hire a maritime attorney to go over the lease issues.
“I think it is a very archaic document ... outdated,” he said. “I don’t think it is adequate for the economy of today.... That doesn’t mean we can break it but a lot of things could be changed or modified.”
Cochran said the city should be concerned that White Pass now contracts with Southeast Stevedoring for its port operations.
“The face that cruise ships interact with is not from Skagway,” he said, adding that the city should make sure it is getting sales tax from what the stevedoring company charges the ships.
The council met for about 90 minutes in executive session and took no action until the regular meeting the following night.
On a vote of 5-1 (Colette Hisman voted no), councilmembers accepted a 1998 appraisal of the tidelands property that was updated last August, which values the property at $1.13 million. At the six percent rate, annual rent is now $67,800.
On another 5-1 vote (Stan Selmer voted no), council agreed to the wording in the letter to be mailed Feb. 16.
Hisman asked that a final sentence that was “too soft” be taken out of the letter. Otherwise, there was no comment on the issue from the councilmembers or the mayor. The letter wasn’t read and its contents weren’t released until the next day.

Residents demand more canine control

Petition with 105-plus signatures presented

Residents of Skagway apparently want a strict leash law in the community, beyond the present city requirement that dogs be under voice command of their owners.
At the Feb. 15 Skagway City Council meeting, Sharon Bolton presented a petition signed by 105 people and two animals that asked for passage of an ordinance that states “all dogs are to be on a leash under human control at all times unless on keeper’s private property.”
The petition asked for uniform enforcement with penalties of $50 for first offense, $100 for second offense, and $250 for each offense thereafter. It also recommended that the enforcers, whether police or an animal control officer, be provided such tools as long-handle capture/restraint poles, live traps, and a holding area for the dogs.
Bolton said the number of signatures wasn’t as significant as the cross-section of the community represented.
“You will find the names of dog owners and non-dog owners, one person even brought the ‘signatures’ of their dog and cat,” Bolton said, holding up two paw prints. “From this collection you will see that many, many people are in agreement there is a problem.”
The petition began circulating after Kurt Kosters addressed the council Jan. 25 about a loose dog coming onto his porch and killing his cat.
Kosters helped circulate Bolton’s petition, and said that 75 percent of the people he approached told him, “God yes, I’ll sign it.”
At the Feb. 15 meeting, he said the recent crackdown by police would be just another “pacifier in the public’s mouth and then would be pulled out ... because there is nothing in place to handle
this problem.”
He said there are people in town with unnecessary medical and veterinarian bills from dog attacks that could have been avoided. He suggested the city accompany the new leash law with a free neutering program.
Bolton backed the petition up with national statistics about dog attacks on children, and a copy of Juneau’s leash law. She said that if the city acts, then it should allow a month’s time to educate the public on the new leash law.
The petition was referred to the Public Safety Committee, but as of the middle of this week no meeting had been scheduled to address it.

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