Home Plate Lagoon

A backhoe digs up the contaminated soil behind the infield at the new ballfield. DL

Tearing up the infield

Latest remediation won’t affect playing season
By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
While Skagway will never rival the North Slope in oil production, the city seems to have no lack of oil coming out of the ground.
“It seems wherever we dig around here, we strike oil,” said City Manager Bob Ward. “It would be helpful to have an overlay of (the location of) oil storage tanks before the war and after.”
The most recent dig was done last week at the city’s new ballpark, next to Jewell Gardens. The garden, leased by Charlotte Jewell from the city, underwent remediation this fall. The garden is next to the old White Pass tank farm that was remediated last year.
The company that now owns the White Pass tank site, Haines Terminal and Highway Co., Inc., is a subsidiary of Russel Metals. Russel Metals was the parent company of White Pass, but spun its railroad division off to another subsidiary, Tri-White, in 1998. RM now deals mainly with clean-up of its former sites in Skagway and the Yukon.
In a letter to Ward, Gary Hamilton, project manager for RM’s environmental consultant, Golder Associates of Burnaby, B.C., wrote that RM would excavate and backfill a segment of the ballfield from the northeast corner to the Klondike Highway, and the company doesn’t expect to find further contamination. The turf will be replaced and the part of the fence that had to be dug up will be replaced.
“I suspect the turf won’t survive the winter,” said Ward. “They’ll have to play on dead grass, then at the end of the season, Russel (Metals) will come back and replace the grass.”
If there is a need to go further into the infield, Ward said the project would be halted until the end of the 2001 playing season.
But that won’t be necessary, said Hamilton by phone.
“It’s pretty much wrapped up,” he said. “We’re just waiting for soil samples to come back. All the contaminated soils have been removed.”
In the meantime, another hydrocarbon contamination problem has spouted.
Across from the Stowaway Cafe down to the White Pass & Yukon Route coffee caboose at the Railroad Dock and out near the breakwater, about 20 orange pipes stand testimony to the latest discovery.
“There used to be an old bulk fuel plant over there, Ward said. “It might have to be remediated too. But that’s up to DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation).
In September 1975, a rock roll down off the hillside and hit the old domestic fuel tank site, rupturing a tank of gas. The tanks were moved over to the west tidelands in the early 1980s.
“The force of the liquid was so great,” said former Fire Chief Carl Mulvihill, “that it collapsed the top of the tank.”
One hundred gallons of gas spilled into the Small Boat Harbor. Mulvihill said the harbor was closed until the gas evaporated, the access road closed, and the power source was shut off.
“There’s a lot of things buried out there,” said Ward.
For sure, residents are still surprised what a little digging around will uncover.
During the paving project, an old riveted steel tank was dug up in front of Steve Smith’s house at 20th Ave. between State and Main. Smith said it was a rectangular tank and had a one-inch water pipe attached. Because it was riveted, it most likely dated to World War II, Ward said.

Once more with feeling
Yukon will work with Skagway to secure port access
By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
With two dozen Tim Horton’s donuts under his arm and a poster for Mayor John Mielke as peace offerings, Michael Brandt, director of the Trade and Investment Branch of the Yukon Department of Economic Development, returned to Skagway on Nov. 29.
In a joint meeting of the Skagway City Council and the Economic Development Commission at City Hall, Brandt explained why the Yukon did not purchase land in Haines and Skagway for dock facilities. It was economics – the money is needed for mandated social and health service programs.
“The government doesn’t want expenditures at this time,” he said.
More than $500,000 had already been invested by the Yukon in the two port initiatives, and the additional $4 million needed to complete the project was seen as too much, too soon.
The Yukon government’s announcement to purchase the properties in November 1999 threw local officials, as there was no prior communication with the Yukon government about it. This time around, with the new Liberal government in power in the Yukon, a proposed Memorandum of Agreement for mutual cooperation when dealing with the port facilities and development is in the works.
Larry Jacquot, owner of the Skagway property at Rabbit Cove that the Yukon wanted to purchase, had no comment on the Yukon’s decision.
But Brandt did not rule out land purchases in the future for the Yukon to secure tidewater access.
“We don't have any needs now, but in the future, we’ll need additional facilities,” said Brandt, who pointed out Skagway’s success in the tourism has tied up the docks during the May to September visitor season.
“Is your port initiative to make us competitive with Haines?” asked Bob Ward, Skagway city manager. “Are you going to pit us against each other?”
Brandt said it just looked that way because the two projects were lumped together.
“Everything we do should be sensitive to that,” Brandt said.
Being connected to the global market is one thing that Brandt considers crucial for the future economic prosperity of the Yukon, as well as an economic boost for Skagway and Haines.
Ward asked Brandt to consider ways the port could accommodate the gas pipeline that might run the route of the Alaska Highway, and said there is some development in the harbor like the enlargement of the Small Boat Harbor and the proposed seawalk/hatchery that might affect harbor activity.
“Looking to the future, will the ores from mines be handled in the same way – probably not,” said Brandt. “It’ll be bagged. So what comes first? What kind of facility do you need here?
“All we knew when we started out talking about a pipeline in the Yukon is ‘a pipeline is good.’ Now we have to look at a plan – how to service companies coming in to do work, social issues... We can’t be linear in our thinking and wake up some day trying to figure it all out,” he said.
A Memorandum of Understanding was drafted by the Economic Development Commission for the Yukon government to consider, and was discussed at the meeting.
“We take the MOU very seriously – right down to being very sensitive about anything spelled Canadian with ‘ou,’” said Brandt, adding the MOU is like a two-way, group hug.
The agreement, to be signed in the future by Mielke and Yukon Premier Pat Duncan, aims to facilitate sharing of information beneficial and direct commercial relationships between both parties’ business communities, to work together on port development, and to issue joint press releases on any mutual endeavors.
Mielke said he didn’t see why the agreement couldn’t be signed within the next 90 days.
“By signing this, it will make us better communicators,” he said. “We might get this plan in place before they figure out the Presidential election. I think we’re off to a good start.”

Elmer Rasmuson in 1992 when the library dedicated a room to him for his generous support. Jeff Brady

Skagway remembers Elmer Rasmuson
By JEFF BRADY
The passing of Elmer E. Rasmuson on Dec. 1 in a Seattle hospital evoked fond memories from Skagway, the town in which the humble Alaskan banker and philanthropist grew up and never forgot.
The Rasmuson family’s most lasting impression on the town is the National Bank of Alaska, but the family also contributed to many local causes over the years, and Elmer, 91, came back whenever he could to check up on everything that was dear to him.
The bank, originally named Bank of Alaska, was actually founded in 1916 by Andrew Stevenson in the old Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building (now Fairway Fast Freight). That year, it broke ground for new headquarters at Sixth and Broadway, where it has remained ever since. Local attorney E.A. Rasmuson, who had just moved his family from Yakutat, (where Elmer was born in 1909), became the bank’s attorney and took over as president in 1919. The Rasmuson family oversaw the firm’s growth into branch banking, and it became Alaska’s largest financial institution.
In a 1991 interview with the Skagway News, Elmer said he attended Skagway School from age nine to about 16. He said he was just a regular kid. He read a lot – his mother Jenny was active in the Women’s Club, which started the first public library – and he liked to fish, pick berries, and play baseball and hockey.
In his recently published memoirs, which can be viewed at the local branch, Elmer wrote that Skagway had the look of a “typical western town living in the shadow of its past,” but called it a “good town in which to grow up. It was physically and ethically clean, with noted flower gardens. The citizens had pride in their past and hope for the future.”
Elmer said his first job was janitor in his father’s bank. After finishing high school in Seattle in 1925, he came back to Skagway to manage the local branch for a year before heading east for college. Elmer returned to Skagway again in 1943, taking over as the bank’s president from his father, who became chairman of the board. Two years later he moved the bank’s headquarters to Anchorage, because “it made sense to move it to where the volume of business was most intense,” he said.
His mother, Jenny, continued to return in summers, tending to her gardens at their home at Second and Main, and remaining active with the Women’s Club and her church.
Elmer grew the bank as Alaska moved into statehood. He also dabbled in politics – he was Anchorage’s mayor for three years during the rebuilding of the city after the 1964 earthquake, and he ran for the U.S. Senate, losing to Mike Gravel. In the 1970s he turned over the reins of bank president to his son, Edward, but remained chairman of the board until 1989. As chairman emeritus, he still attended board meetings.
NBA, which recently sold its assets to Wells Fargo & Co., held its final board meeting in Skagway last August. Elmer, who was recovering from gall bladder surgery, was unable to attend. His last visit here was in 1998, when he and wife Mary Louise attended the Skagway Reunion and participated in the Skagway Memories video project with the Centennial Committee.
Sitting at the manager’s desk in the Skagway branch, Elmer recalled his days running the bank and growing up here. Tony Alvarado, who was branch manager then, hosted the Rasmusons that weekend, and said Elmer was very proud to be from Skagway. He also kept an eye on the bank.
“He was sharp as a tack,” Alvarado said from his Juneau NBA office. “My boss had given me some advice: ‘If you don’t know the answer to something, tell him, because he sees right through you.’ That came in handy.”
Alvarado remembers attending a board meeting in which the chairman emeritus appeared to be dozing, but then jumped right into the conversation to interject something important.
“I found him unlike other powerful figures in that he made you comfortable to be around him,” Alvarado added. “He was proud the bank started here, and its success spoke well of him and the town. But even as the bank grew and as prominent as he grew, he never forgot Skagway.”
Erik Niebuhr, who took over the Skagway manager’s chair from Alvarado last summer, remembered Elmer walking into a training seminar with young bankers in Anchorage.
“He was a very nice man, and very encouraging for bank employees,” Niebuhr said. “While he had a lot to gain from the bank, Alaska was his first priority.”
Niebuhr said Elmer’s gift of $90 million to his two foundations on his 90th birthday in 1999 will be the Alaskan benchmark for many years.
Skagway was a beneficiary as well. Elmer and NBA provided the seed money for many worthy projects here.
Elmer never forgot the library that his mother helped start. During the bank’s 75th anniversary in 1991, the Skagway Public Library was raising funds to set up an endowment to enhance its book collection. The Library Board wrote Mr. Rasmuson, requesting a donation. The goal was $50,000. Elmer sent back a check for $25,000, and the goal was met in a short time with other donations.
Interest from the endowment fund will support book buying at the library for many, many years. Elmer followed up his donation with a visit in 1992, and the library dedicated its new meeting room, the Rasmuson Room. When he returned again in 1998, he made a point to take the Library Board to lunch.
“He was just an incredibly interesting man,” said Library Board Chair Wendy Anderson, who met him then for the first time. “He told us about his mother and the Women’s Club starting the library.”
Also during this visit, Elmer toured the Skagway Presbyterian Church, which had benefited from a Rasmuson Foundation donation for its Rec. Hall renovation. Elma McMillen, who showed him the progress on the building, said Rasmuson laughed when she suggested the amount needed to finish the project. After he returned to Anchorage, the Rasmuson Foundation not only cut the church another check for the project, but Elmer also wrote a personal check.
“He certainly was a good man in every way,” McMillen said. “He would sit and listen to you, and his wife was a lovely person.”
Elmer also checked out the Skagway Centennial Statue. In 1993, when the project fund-raising was lagging, NBA sent a check for $15,000. Other large corporate donations followed, and the $70,000 needed for the project was raised in time to complete it for the 1997 centennial year.
And he never missed a chance to look at his mother’s famous duck-neck fur robe, which hangs prominently in the Skagway City Museum.
Jenny Rasmuson donated the robe and other items to the museum, said Museum Director Judy Munns, and the items remained in Skagway with Elmer’s blessing.
Even though most of the family’s collection is in Anchorage, “he always felt Skagway should have something here from their early years,” Munns said. “He was very warm and generous with his time, considerate, and always followed up his visits with personal, hand-written notes.”
The duck-neck robe will be away from Skagway next summer, on loan to the special Alaska Quilt Exhibit at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. One of Elmer’s final charitable acts was a $10,000 gift to the State Museum to pay the printing costs for the exhibit’s program.
His mother’s robe from Skagway will be featured on the cover.
Funeral services for Elmer was held on Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage at 616 West Tenth Avenue. A reception at the Hilton Hotel will follow immediately after the services.
Flowers may be sent to the church or the family recommends contributions be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.

McCabe within budget, for now
Ward addresses errors in treasurer's report

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
A very contrite Bob Ward, Skagway’s city manager, said last week that he was unaware the $1 million loan from National Bank of Alaska was accounted for under special projects in the general fund, and not in the sales tax fund under McCabe Project funds.
“So, Sharon Bolton (Chamber of Commerce administrator) was right, that the cost reflected in the sales tax budget did not include the $1 million from the NBA loan proceeds,” Ward said in an interview in his office at the McCabe.
A special meeting of the Skagway City Council was held Nov. 29 to discuss the project, and Bolton asked about the NBA loan funds at that time.
At first, the question was the $365,000 for the McCabe Project that showed up in the October Treasurer’s Report and appeared there before the ordinance approving the money was ever passed.
At the special meeting, Ward said new City Treasurer Cindy O’Daniel put the larger amount in by mistake, and the money was never actually transferred to the account.
The discussion broadened to the entire project cost. Participating by phone, Councilmember Colette Hisman asked for a complete financial accounting of the project, so the public would know where its money is being spent.
“I know it’s been a very long, drawn out process,” Hisman said. “I’m hoping that for that first meeting in January, that we can have a document for the public – a complete accounting of what money went where.”
Ward had the document compiled several days after the special meeting.
The McCabe renovation and addition’s original completion date was late February 2000. An extension was negotiated to the contract for a completion date of April 25. The general contractor, Alaska Building Contractors of Anchorage, dropped the project in August and left without completing the punch list of items needed for the city to sign off on the project. The city hired Jewell Construction to complete the list, but omitted some parts that could be done by the city’s Public Works crew – like the boardwalk.
“As far as pounding nails contract, we are well within budget, but the extra cost will be gotten from the (ABC’s) bonding company,” Ward said.
The original contract amount was $2.3 million, but almost immediately, the need to tuckpoint the stonework on the entire building and the council’s approval of adding stone veneer to the new addition raised it $250,000. Then there were numerous electrical upgrades, mechanical changes and finish changes, Ward said.
“All of those change orders are listed, there are no missing monies,” he said.
So far, Ward said, the actual cost to date for the project itself is $2,538,799.
The following figures are for Fiscal Years 99-2001. The total paid to ABC is $2,404,423.18 and includes the NBA loan money and sales tax funds. Public Works has been paid $11,577.57 for project work. Engineering costs for FY99-2001 total $696,286.77. Materials for the same period total $41,416.94 and includes $33,007.34 for the cost of new furnishings. Administrative costs, which include closing costs, trips to Anchorage for meetings for the contract extension are $16,495.01. Contractual money for computer specialists to set up the office network came to $16,988.40.
Construction costs, which includes $174,166.37 for the temporary city office building built by Jewell Construction, total $2,713,965.58.
Koonce, Pfeffer & Bettis, project architects, have been paid $692,827.37 – $250,000 of that for the design and the rest for construction management. The company’s original contract amount was $470.000, and the increased cost reflects the project’s lengthy completion time.
The city hopes to recover that additional $22,000 it had to pay KP&B as a result of the project going over its contracted completion date and a yet-unknown amount to be paid to Jewell Construction to complete the remaining punch list items after ABC left the project.
“I certainly feel embarrassed, if not ashamed that those loan funds were not accounted for,” Ward said. “Aside from it being an ignorant oversight, there was nothing insidious.”
Ward has met with each councilmember individually and gone over the figures, he said. The report is available to the public for review at City Hall, he added.
Hisman said she still wants to see some more accounting.
“It’s (the report) not quite complete to me, there’s still more information to come in – the monies to the bonding company and the money that went to the architect,” she said.

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