Garden City Girl

Chris Ellis, winner of this year's Edith Lee Award for her contributions to the "Garden City of Alaska," sits on a homemade twig chair in her garden on State Street. See more coverage of the annual Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show on our gardens page. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

Plea agreement for Taylor

Former WP&YR president gets 480 hours of community service, lecture from judge

Associated Press Writer
Special to Skagway News
ANCHORAGE (AP) _ A former executive with the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad on Wednesday entered a guilty plea to one misdemeanor count in U.S. District Court in connection with a 1994 oil spill by the railroad near Skagway.
Paul Taylor pleaded guilty to negligent discharge of oil and was sentenced to three years of probation and 480 hours of community service by Judge H. Russel Holland.
While Holland accepted the plea agreement, he was clearly not happy with it, particularly with the fact that Taylor, the former president of the railroad, wouldn’t do any prison time.
“This result is one of the least satisfying resolutions I’ve seen of a criminal case in quite a while,” Holland said. “You got a walk on something and it shouldn’t have happened, but that’s where we are. You were the responsible officer for the company and I think you blew it bad.”
But Taylor’s attorney, Tim Petumenos, noted Taylor was never convicted of any of the much more serious charges he originally faced, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and failure to report an oil spill.
“I think the way this case ended up is a proper resolution,”
Petumenos said. “It’s certainly fair to say Mr. Taylor fought these
charges every inch of the way.”
Railroad roadmaster Edward Hanousek, who unlike Taylor is still employed by the company, was sentenced to jail time for his involvement with the spill. He was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to six months in prison and six months in a halfway house. His appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court and U.S. Supreme Court were turned down.
The spill occurred Oct. 1, 1994, about six miles from Skagway when a railroad-owned oil pipeline was damaged by a backhoe during an excavation project. Up to 1,500 gallons of heating oil spilled into the Skagway River.
Taylor reached an agreement with federal prosecutors two days before jury selection was to begin for his third trial in the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Brown said the government agreed to Taylor’s plea because witnesses’ recollection of events have faded in the seven years since the spill, making it difficult to ensure a conviction. He also cited the expense of another trial.
Taylor had been convicted in 1996 of two felony counts of lying to government officials and was acquitted of seven other counts. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction last August, saying the judge had allowed inadmissible evidence.
A second trial in June ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked.
Taylor’s guilty plea to a charge of negligent discharge of oil was related to a telephone conversation he had with Coast Guard officials in Juneau two days after the spill.
In that conversation, Taylor said he didn’t think there was anything for them to see at the spill site and said there was no reason for them to come to Skagway. That conversation could have had the effect of delaying the Coast Guard’s arrival by several hours, Petumenos said.
When the Coast Guard arrived it supervised the digging of a ditch to collect the oil and keep it from flowing into the river.
Taylor told the court he was careless in his conversation with the Coast Guard. He said his assessment of the situation was based on earlier visits to the site.
“I had been to the site twice. I saw a minor spill,” Taylor said. He told Holland he had never had any prior trouble with the law.
“This is the only problem I’ve ever had. The only thing that’s even been close to a problem,” Taylor said.
The agreement Taylor reached with the government did not initially include community service. Holland asked if there was any reason why he should not require community service.
Petumenos suggested 100 hours before Holland decided on 480 hours.
Taylor told Holland he could offer his services as an engineer to the City of Skagway.

Summer sales tax proposition shot down


A torrent of opposition to a summer-only 5 percent sales tax measure, brought council rejection of the voter proposition at the Skagway City Council meeting on Aug. 16.
“For or against?” a resident asked a council member as they walked into council chambers.
“Oh, the sales tax, I’m for it,” the council member responded.
But as merchants and residents paraded in front of the council, voicing opposition, the four council members present, J. Frey, Dan Henry, Colette Hisman and Dave Hunz, appeared to reconsider the proposition.
Under the proposition, which would have faced voters at the election Oct. 2, Skagway would have a 5 percent sales tax from April 1 through Sept. 30 and no sales tax from October through March.
“The seasonal tax reminds me of a throw back to when we first came to Skagway, when a seasonal person couldn’t get a library card or a bank account,” said gallery owner Terry Williams at the meeting. “I thought that kind of seasonal discrimination was done with.”
Skagway Street Car co-owner Steve Hites cautioned that the cruise industry is not as permanent as it may seem.
“This industry is one that can move tonnage elsewhere,” Hites said. “Right now a vote against this will send a message that Skagway is pro-tourism.”
Linda Huston, director of Southeast operations for Holland America Line, voiced her opposition for the proposal, citing that the year has been a “challenging” one for the Alaska cruise industry.
On June 9, state law makers mandated that cruise ship disposal of waste water be recorded and subject to state inspection paid for by the cruise industry.
“I strongly urge you not go forward with the sales tax ... and we’ll continue to support Skagway with our financial contributions,” Huston said. “And we’ll try to beef that up as much as we can.”
Several residents proposed alternatives for a summer-only sales tax which was intended to bring tax relief to year-round residents.
“If you have to seek relief and you want to give relief to the residents – no tax on food, but it should be year-round, no tax on medicine and no tax on rent,” merchant Bill Barger said.
Prior to the meeting, Popcorn Wagon owner Frank Deramo passed fliers around to businesses urging public input concerning the tax measure.
Gallery owner John Harris was one of a handful of residents who spoke for considering the proposal.
“The rationale was to increase taxes in the summer because that’s when most of the services would be used,” he said.
Harris said he polled two shoppers in his gallery about the summer tax proposal.
“They said they pay a lot higher taxes than that now and it certainly wouldn’t stop them from coming here,” he said.
They also responded they wouldn’t know that the tax was summer-only because they only visit in the summer, Harris said.
Skagway resident Jan Nelson also spoke up for the measure.
“We’re inconvenienced,” he said. “We give up our town for six months a year. We should be compensated for that.”
During council discussion, Henry suggested an amendment from 5 to 4.5 percent year-round and removing the tax from food.
“At 4.5 percent, we can subsidize the emergency services, where are rubber band stretched too far,” Henry said. “At that point, all’s we would do is present it to us, the citizens of Skagway, and if you’re here on Oct. 2, you can go into the ballot and vote yes or no.”
But the motion to table for further discussion failed on a 2-2 vote with Hunz and Frey voting against.
All four Council members then voted to fail the ordinance. Frey said he would bring up a proposed exemption on food at a future meeting, while keeping the sales tax at 4 percent. Given that the city has been collecting more in the past three years from tours and transportation, he thinks the city can afford to take the tax off food.

Longshoremen Wayne Greenstreet and Casey McBride cast off a cruise ship on a balmy mid-August evening. Skagway experienced summer with temperatures nearing 80 for a few glorious days. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

Candidates slow in filing, deadline Mon. Aug. 27

As of Aug. 22, only three candidates have declared for the municipal election on Oct. 2.
No one has declared for mayor. Mayor John Mielke has declined to run. He’s looking forward to being on his new boat, he said.
Incumbent Dan Henry is the only candidate for city council. Councilmember Stan Selmer is stepping down because his job with AP&T takes him out of town, and he feels he cannot fill the duties of his office because of his frequent absences.
Chris Ellis and Dawn Kilburn have filed for reelection to the school board. School board President Don Hather is resigning before the end of his term, citing health concerns. Interim board member Bill Hunz, appointed to fill former president Michelle Carlson’s seat, will also be vacating his place on the board.
Deadline for filing is Aug. 27 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

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