The Spirit of Christmas

Zachary Breen, 1, expresses the wonder of the season as he watches the puppet play presented at the Skagway Library on Dec. 8. Yuletide clebrations that weekend included several social events for children – a visit with Santa at the school, a free movie "The Kid" sponsored by White Pass & Yukon Route Railraod, a chance for children to enjoy live music and test out their dancing skills at the Yuletide Ball. Festivities continued the next weekend when the WP&YR had an encore visit with Santa and his ellves on a train ride. DL

Whale freed off Skagway

Humpback tangled in shrimp pot lines

A humpback whale, about 35 feet long, was freed of about 10 shrimp pots and their lines on Dec. 9 by biologists from the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network and crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Liberty. The whale was about a half mile north of Burro Creek in Taiya Inlet.
“My gear was missing,” said fisherman Frank Terraciano by phone from Haines. “It was about a mile away from where it was set. I saw the buoy and then I saw it disappear.
When the whale snagged one line, he snagged them all.
Terraciano went after the buoy, and then he saw the whale.
“They (National Marine Fisheries Service) sent me a tool to cut it off, but it didn’t work. Then I knew we needed help.”
He doesn’t know how long the whale was entangled in the pots and lines, but said it probably was a good thing if it had to happen that it did a few days before the rescue.
“He played against the line long enough that he was pretty docile and tired enough that he wasn’t obstinate,” he said. “They did a real fine job, hauling him in like a big fish.”
Terraciano said he checks his pots, which are set on a tender line, every week.
Back in Skagway on Dec. 12 to distribute food baskets and blankets – an annual Christmas drive the Coast Guard does throughout Southeast – Liberty crewmembers were in the Sweet Tooth Cafe having lunch when they were interviewed about the whale incident.
“We went out in an 18-foot, rigid inflatable boat and freed the whale from the shrimp pots,” said Bosun Mate Second Class Charles Gittings. “It took about four-and-a-half hours and two other guys – Seaman Casey Loken and Machinery Technician Craig Knouff.”
Some locals expressed surprise that whales were still in the area and not on their way to Hawaii for mating season.
“It’s not unusual for whales to still be feeding this time of year or January or sometimes February” said Jan Straley of Sitka, one of the on-scene biologists with the AMMSN and professor at the University of Alaska Southeast in Sitka. “They can get to Hawaii in a month – that’s pretty fast and still make it for mating and calving. Of the very small number of whales that do not migrate, it’s really a mix of males and females.”
This puts to rest the theory that sexually-immature bachelor whales stay up north until their time comes.
“They need to be there on in the grounds to learn the ropes,” Straley said.
A tiny, little buoy that couldn’t be removed is still on the whale’s pectoral fin, Straley said.
“We’re hoping it throws it off and it doesn’t cause it any trouble,” she said.
Commercial shrimping season ended Dec. 13, shrimpers had to secure the doors open on the pots and remove all bait and pull their pots within a week, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Because the whale had its run-in with commercial shrimp pots on a tender line, it raises concern among locals that commercial shrimpers are “raping and pillaging” local waters, said Terraciano. Shrimp only live to be about four years old, he said.
“It really needs to be harvested,” he said. “It’s been getting stronger over the last eight years. We’re in an upswing cycle.”

Local tour guides given broker bid
Aim to streamline tour sales system

After a cliff-hanger of a Skagway City Council meeting, Mike Coller and Mark Jennings of M & M Brokerage were awarded the bid for the single-provider brokerage to replace the infamous “shark pit” at the foot of the White Pass Dock in 2001.
It was the only bid, and that was cause for some suspense.
Because the bid advertisement was printed in the Juneau Empire and not the local Skagway paper, some councilmembers questioned whether it was fair to those who are out of town for the winter and not know about the request for proposals.
It was posted locally, said City Manager Bob Ward at the Dec. 7 meeting, and he thought it had been sent to the permitted tour sales vendors, but it had not. Ward said that was an oversight as was not advertising it this paper.
He said at the meeting he did not consider it to be the city’s responsibility to individually inform seasonal businesses of the city’s actions, and several councilmembers agreed with that sentiment.
The bid award was approved with members present J. Frey, Dave Hunz, Tim Bourcy and Dan Henry voting yes, and Colette Hisman, no.
“We knew the sale permits would expire at the end of 2000, and we had heard there would be lots of changes in 2001, including the probability of a single brokerage” said Coller during a later interview. “One morning over coffee, Mark and I said we ought to think about doing something. In the course of the next few days, we decided we could devise a successful solution for all parties.”
Coller and Jennings, both veteran tour sellers, were given a five-year contract with a one-year probationary period to broker tours for all tour companies who sign up with them. One percent of their gross profits will go to the city.
“We just thought the city would be happy with a percentage,” said Coller later. “We think it’ll be about $50,000-$60,000.
“We crunched number until we were blue in the face, but it’s not as much as the public would think. We won’t make a lot in the first year with expenses.”
The city will enclose the “shark pit,” and next year if the venture is successful, build a new building on the site.
“It’s going to be better than it was,” said Buckwheat Donahue, Convention and Visitors Bureau director.
The pair have first-hand knowledge of the city’s visitors and what and how they want to experience Skagway. Because of that, they have a novel idea.
“A large percentage of visitors to Alaska ask where they can see the Northern Lights,” said Coller. “We have an answer. We’ll include in every tour for free, an amazing, giant screen showing of the Northern Lights at the Gold Pan Theatre. It’ll last 10 minutes only and local merchants can advertise their products on the screen.”
M&M’s other brokerage office will be at the Gold Pan Theatre, so there will be an outlet at both ends of the town.
“We’re definitely going to clean up the system – it’ll work better,” said Jennings.
“It’s gonna be fun,” said Coller.
“And challenging,” said Jennings.

What’s a little sludge between friends?
Streaking up the highway to Carmacks
Skagway put a new twist on the phrase “hands across the border” when the city’s wastewater treatment plant recently donated 3,000 gallons of sludge to the city of Carmacks in the Yukon. That’s on top of 3,000 gallons sent up in August.
“They’re just looking to replace their bugs,” said Tim Gladden, who manages the Skagway Treatment Plant. The “bugs” are the bacteria that break down solid waste or “sludge.”
The Carmacks waste treatment plant is a secondary waste water treatment facility, said Greg Bull of G.J. Bull and Associates in Whitehorse, who is the consulting environmental engineer for Carmacks.
“We have an infiltration problem when the Yukon River rises and groundwater washes out the bacteria,” Bull said. That happens in July with regularity, he said.
“We reseed the treatment plant with sewage bacteria which you grow down there in your digestor,” Bull said. “So we’re reseeding it to kick start it back up to its full operating efficiency.”
The shipment was approved by the Yukon Health and Social Services, and was not classified as hazardous waste.
It is indeed an unusual gift to give one’s neighbors during the holiday season, but then goodwill can come in many forms. –DL

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