Where're the horses?

Poor Wells Fargo Bank of Alaska branch manager Eric Niebuhr (right) was pestered with the question, "Where're the horses?" by passersby for hours last Monday. Wells Fargo's trademark horse team could not tour the entire state, Niebuhr said, because they couldn't spend that much time cooped up in the trailer. The company sent around the stagecoach instead. People climbed on board and bounced around on the springs to get a feel of what a real coach ride in the Old West might have felt like. Here, retired cattle rancher and farmer Delmer Hagerott of North Dakota talks about the coach and his trip through Alaska with Niebuhr. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

'What's that smell?'

Resident says he saw sheen on the water; Coast Guard, NCL, CLAA say no discharge

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
Some people saw it and smelled it, but cruise line officials and the U.S. Coast Guard say there was no discharge after a resident saw an apparent slick near the Norwegian Wind July 12.
“The first thing I saw, well we first got a whiff of it on the dock,” said resident Ken Graham of the slick he saw. Graham works for a guiding service and goes down to the docks to pick up clients.
Graham said he looked over the pier and there was something foaming in the water and moving to the shore near the cliffside.
“It was a big, wide, moving slick going right onto the shore,” he said. “I saw a big Latex glove in the middle of it. It certainly didn't look normal – none of it.”
Graham reported the incident to the Coast Guard later.
“They (Coast Guard) talked to people, and the glove had been reported being seen earlier. I talked to the Coast Guard guy and he kept saying, ‘the glove, the glove,’ and he didn’t think anything was wrong. I’m down at the docks a lot and so is Jeff.”
Jeff Brady, Skagway News publisher, was also on the docks handing out visitor guides, and said Graham pointed out what looked like debris and the glove.
“It really stunk,” Brady said. The two newspaper kids working with him complained about the smell, so did passengers getting off the ship. “I’ve smelled that before but never seen anything associated with it.”
Andrew Green, port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, said in an interview later that they thought the incident was a dead issue because the Coast Guard had followed up on the report and was satisfied with the information received from the crew.
The chief engineer on the Norwegian Wind told Cruise Line Agencies that all tanks had been closed since 4 a.m.
As for the smell, Green said all ships have to vent the gas from the wastewater tanks.
“They vent all the time, if they didn’t, they’d blow up,” he said. “All that gas has to go someplace.”

A glove floats in a sheen in the harbor on July 12 at about 7:45 a.m. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

Green said it’s not unusual to experience that smell when a ship is in port.
He also thought the ship may have backed up using its main screws and churned up some muck. The glove would not have made it through the screen in the blackwater tank anyway, said Green.
White Pass’s Gary Danielson, who was on the dock and called Cruise Line Agencies to report the odor, said the ship basically “farted.”
Lt. Comdr. Joe Paitl of the U.S. Coast Guard in Juneau said the follow-up with the vessel’s crew indicated there was no discharge. He also thought the bow thrusters may have churned up the bottom.
The Coast Guard enforces the federal law dealing with cruise ship discharge, and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the state’s new law on cruise ship discharge.
Paitl said they get a lot of such reports in Juneau, but not many from Skagway. With a limited budget, he said, if they cannot fly someone up to Skagway they ask a State Trooper or the local Police Department “to be their eyes and ears.” According to Skagway Police Chief Dennis Spurrier, they didn’t ask for assistance from the Police Department.
Susan Robinson, director of public relations for Norwegian Cruise Lines in the Miami headquarters, said the company was aware of the report. She said their ships do not vent when they are in port.
“What they say smelled was probably mud from stirring up the muddy water,” she said.
The ship docked this week on the opposite side, and when asked why, Robinson said that is a common occurrence in order to get to life boats for drills or to access a side that needs painting.

Crunch is on

Labor shortage claimed by some; housing shortage claimed by others

By JENNIFER COLLINS
When the “breakfast all day” Siding 21 pulled its blinds and closed for the summer season, owner Kurt Barry attributed it to a labor shortage in Skagway.
Similarly, Nancy Corrington said she will close the Golden North Hotel two weeks early this season because she can’t find enough dependable room cleaners.
But some merchants in town disagree.
When the manager of the Rushin’ Tailor, Trish MaGee, hung help wanted signs in her window, she said she had applicants almost immediately.
“I’ve twice advertised and got tons of people coming in,” MaGee said. “There’s not a labor shortage there’s only a shortage of brain power and ingenuity on the part of the employers. They’re (employers) being too picky.”
Corrington’s husband, Dennis, pointed to the lack of affordable housing as a factor in the labor shortage.
“The city has not been proactive in finding housing for temporary people,” Dennis said.
The Golden North employs 80 people in the summer but can provide housing for only 50 people, Nancy said.
Mayor John Mielke agreed housing was short in town, but said creating more space for housing was difficult because city growth is constrained by land owners and litigation.
The land west of town, along the Dyea Road, was supposed to be conveyed to the city from mental health land but is tied up in litigation, Mielke said.
“There’s no place to expand beyond the north bridge,” Mielke said. “I would think that would be the first place you could look.”
Currently, people pay $195-$260 depending on tent size at a trailer park, said Chris Murray, the manager of Skagway’s Mountain View RV Park.
The park has 150 RV sites and 25 tent sites. All of the tent sites are occupied by seasonal workers.
Bob Dindinger of Alaska Travel Adventure bought Mountain View RV Park three years ago on the condition they would provide seasonal tent housing for five years.
“I don’t see a scenario where we would discontinue seasonal housing,” Dindinger said. “We do want to upgrade the living conditions there.”
Dindinger said he might build wall tents on platforms or cabins to house seasonal workers.
The manager of the Corner Station, Virginia Long, said one- bedroom “efficiency” apartments cost $400 per month.
“You don’t get rich doing this, but there’s such a need for this,” she said. “Because people are living in tents for as much as we charge for our efficiencies which are brand new.”
The ten-unit building at Sixth and State was advertised for sale Monday in the Juneau Empire as being for sale for $625,000.
Despite the labor and housing shortage, people are still visiting Skagway in large numbers, Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said.
“What I’m hearing on the street is we’re doing as good as last year, if not better,” Donahue said, adding that the tourism report for April, May and June will be released mid-August. “I think we have more people but they’re spending less money per capita.”

Now you see it, now you don't

Ballot measure would raise tax in summer, omit tax in winter

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
Much discussion occurred at the July 19 city council meeting over the proposed ballot proposition to raise the sales tax.
The proposal is to raise the tax from four to five percent from April 1 through Sept. 30, and to collect no sales tax from Oct. 1 through March 31.
The ordinance to put the proposition on the ballot passed first reading with Bourcy and Frey voting no, and Selmer, Hisman, Hunz and Henry voting yes. It will be up for second reading at the council’s Aug. 2 meeting.
There were concerns within the council and from the public that putting the proposition on the October ballot would send a message to the cruise ship companies that they were being targeted.
The fears of driving away the visitor industry were considered in light of the reality, said Councilmember Dave Hunz, that city services are “maxed out.”
“Alaska is the most expensive cruise ship destination in the world,” said Councilmember Tim Bourcy.
“I would have to vote for this because it does target a population of people that live here,” said Councilmember Stan Selmer. “I don’t know if this is the right way to do it, and we’ll know it when the people vote on it. Not a lot of people here make money in the winter.”
Skagway Street Car Co. owner Steve Hites said in public testimony that “the city is a black hole of spending,” and that he was against the ballot measure “entitlement.” He said the city would probably have to raise taxes to meet the deficit from the measure.
But Councilmember Dan Henry said, according to his calculations, that $250,000 would be raised for things the city needs if the voters pass the proposition.
“Tourism has grown year after year after year, and we have held the line, but services are inadequate,” Henry said.
Business owner Ed Fairbanks said a similar measure came up when he was on the city council, and it was advised at that time it would be illegal because it targeted a certain population.
City Manager Bob Ward said he had checked with the city attorney and it would not be illegal, because everyone would pay a tax in the summer and everyone wouldn’t pay a tax in the winter. He compared the tax to Haines’s five percent and Juneau’s six percent.
Selmer said this proposition is the result of his proposal to take tax off food, heating oil, propane, and power bills – year-round for everybody. He was told it would cost the city too much, and so the present measure was drafted.
“I’ll vote to put it out to the public, but I think there’s some flaws in it,” said Selmer after the meeting by phone. “I’d rather see us take some interest from the land fund and buy down the land tax each year.”
Selmer thinks the shortfall is optimistic, because people will wait until the tax-free time to make large purchases in town.

MOU with Yukon on hold

The Skagway City Council will study new language in a revised agreement with the Yukon Government before taking further action.
Former Economic Development Coordinator Candice Wallace and resident Jan Nelson recently visited the Skagway News office with concerns about the change in language between the initial Memorandum of Understanding on a Commerce Development Plan between the City of Skagway and the Yukon Government.
The proposed MOU from the Yukon included the understanding that “The parties will work together on a port development plan with private sector stakeholders to address their existing and future infrastructure needs and opportunities. The support and co-operation of other agencies will be sought where appropriate.”
Wallace said the statement left open the possibility that the Yukon Government could come in, buy up the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, and thus would have control of Skagway’s docks.
In a commentary on KHNS, Wallace suggested Mayor John Mielke and other WP&YR employees on the council have a conflict of interest regarding the MOU.
At the council’s July 19 meeting, Councilmember Colette Hisman noted the changes to the MOU and said, “There are some differences and I think everyone should look at that before everyone votes.”
“I think we have a little difference in our language, the Queen’s English is different from ours,” said Councilmember J. Frey.
After the meeting, Mayor John Mielke said in a phone interview that he had looked over the document and didn’t see anything wrong with it.
“The proposal is from them to us. It looks like they combined our seven points down to six,” he said.
“I certainly don’t want to get into a situation where the city could be damaged, but it can be severed by either party in writing. It’s not a binding contract,” he said.
Another point in the MOU states that any media releases would have to be jointly approved before their release.
The matter was tabled until the council’s Aug. 2 meeting.

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