February 8, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 2
Faster than a Speeding Loco
Snowflakes speed past the main White Pass rail shops building and collect in drifts on its south side during a ferocious blizzard Jan. 28-29, in which temperatures dipped to minus-6F and north winds were clocked at more than 40 miles per hour. Thankfully, it lasted only two days.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Jeff Thielbar resigns as local school superintendent
Staying till end of school year; board begins search
By KATIE EMMETS
Jefferie Thielbar has resigned as the Skagway School Superintendent effective July 1.
The Skagway School Board discussed his resignation letter at a January 29 meeting.
“It is with mixed emotions that I must resign as the Skagway School District Superintendent,” Thielbar wrote in his resignation letter. “I am saddened to leave Skagway, yet I am excited to be closer to my grandchildren, children and aging parents.”
Thielbar said he is not leaving Skagway because of his job.
“This is the best job in the whole city,” he said.
Both he and his wife, Kerry, have parents who are getting older, he said, and three quarters of their children and grandchildren are within a seven-hour drive in all directions from Central, La., where the couple will move in July.
Thielbar has accepted a job at Central Private School, a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade learning institution.
Though his title will be principal, Thielbar said the position would be much like his superintendent job at Skagway School.
“I will report to a board and have other principals that I am responsible for, as well as the business manager and district office,” Thielbar said.
At the meeting, board members agreed that Thielbar has done a great job as superintendent.
“We are all sad to see him go,” said Board President Stuart Brown. “He has been such a great asset in this time of transition.”
Over the last few years, Brown said, the school has encountered funding issues that have lead to staffing issues.
“We are trying to get back on course, and he has been a good leader,” Brown said.
The school board has not wasted any time in begging the search for Thielbar’s replacement.
Three days after discussing the resignation at the board meeting, Brown visited with the Alaska Association of School Boards in Juneau while he was in town lobbying for the district.
“They will assist us in our superintendent search,” he said of AASB, “They will post it on their website as well as other websites around the nation, and they will also assist in the screening process.”
Thielbar is also helping the board to fill his position by writing up a job description and contacting the National School Boards Association.
Thielbar said he wanted to give the board six months notice, so it would have ample time to find a replacement.
In addition to a superintendent, the school board is posting two positions that will fill requirements for science, vocational tech and computer science.
“We will introduce some exciting new things next year including enhanced digital learning for all ages,” Brown said.
Twelve applicants considered in second round of borough manager selection process
By KATIE EMMETS
The Borough Manager Selection Committee met Thursday to discuss a second round of applications, after its top pick for the job turned the offer down in January.
The committee reviewed 12 applications, but only three were from applicants new to the search.
Four of the applications came from the applicants who made it to the phone interview round in last month’s search, and three applications came from applicants who were from the original pool of 30 received by the municipality in January.
Committee member Mark Schaefer said he hopes to have the search completed as soon as possible.
There is no reason the committee couldn’t review applications Thursday, make phone calls to chosen candidates on Friday, and then decide who should come up for final interviews, he said.
“We need to get this done as soon as possible,” Schaefer said. “We need to tighten up our timeline and get on it.”
The manager selection committee met Thursday after this issue went to press. An updated finalist list will be posted on the News website when it is made available.
Interim borough manager Tom Healy, who has been the acting manager since November 1, said he would be flexible while the committee selects a new manager.
Schaefer said Healy has been great for the borough, but he doesn’t want to upset his life.
“I appreciate him and I want him around, but I feel bad that we keep asking him to stay,” Schaefer said.
UPDATE: The committee narrowed the list to four applicants, and then interviewed three prospects by phone the following week: George Edes of Pismo Beach, Calif., a retired manager who once served in Wrangell; Jon Erickson of Juneau, a planner for the State Commission on Aging and former manager of Thorne Bay; and Troy Heaton, a principal and chief admin. for schools in Hydaburg.
Municipality unlikely to receive money for West Creek hydro study from AEA this year
By KATIE EMMETS
A West Creek hydropower feasibility study was recommended for full funding by the Alaska Energy Authority in a renewable energy grant program last month, but because of its ranking, it is unlikely the project study will be funded this year.
“The AEA has recommended the full funding of $236,000 for a West Creek feasibility study,” said Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer. “But because it is so far down on the list, it probably won’t receive money.”
The study was ranked 60 out of 85 total renewable energy projects that were considered for funding.
In a project report on its website, the AEA review team, while recommending full funding for West Creek feasibility, noted the following concerns about the project:
“1. (Municipality) states that a major benefit of the project is the reduced air emissions from diesel generation by the cruise ships. However, when the EPA mandated change in cruise ship fuel from bunker oil to ultra low sulfur diesel is implemented, the air quality issues associated with docking of cruise ships will decrease substantially. This, in turn, reduces the public benefit of this project.
“2. AEA has previously committed funding for Connelly Lake, Schubee Lake, and Burro Creek reconnaissance and feasibility assessment. These projects would compete to meet the same loads as the proposed project.
“3. Given that the chief aim of the project is to supply the shore-based cruise ship load, AEA questions the amount of public benefit to be received versus the high capital cost and high technical, business, and regulatory risks of the proposed project.
“4. Since the project would potentially affect the viewscapes and upstream waters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park, there is significant permitting risk.”
On the first concern, Selmer commented that while the emissions control rules are being proposed, the state is suing to stop those rules.
AEA was budgeted $25 million to distribute for projects as it saw fit, and of the 80 project applications it received, it chose only 23 of them to be placed in the first tier to receive funding.
There are 18 projects that were placed in the second tier, and if the AEA receives an additional $25 million, the second tier will be funded.
In order for a West Creek study to be funded by AEA this year, the amount of money the agency receives for the grant program would have to jump up to $56,846,066, Selmer said.
Last year, a West Creek feasibility study was placed in the second tier of the program but did not receive money, as the second tier was not funded at all.
Selmer said the municipality could petition the AEA’s decision to rank the project lower than the first tier, but he is not going to encourage the Skagway Borough Assembly to do so at this point.
There are other possible funding options that do not include AEA grant money, said Assemblyman Mark Schaefer, who discussed the potential West Creek hydro project with several interested Yukon entities at January’s Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Over the course of three days, Schaefer and other municipal officials discussed a potential West Creek hydropower distribution with Yukon Minister of Economic Development Currie Dixon and Michael Brandt, vice president of Yukon Energy.
If a West Creek hydro project is created, the generated energy could be used to power cruise ships in the summer and sell to Yukon power companies year-round.
Schaefer said Yukon Energy is interested in doing a study for power transmission lines to see what the potential is for power transfer is and to also figure out what Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues could incur if there was a sale of power from Skagway to the Yukon.
Even though Yukon Energy is working toward getting LNG (liquefied natural gas), Brandt was adamant the company is interested in getting power from all sources it can, which is why it is so interested in potential hydropower from West Creek.
Schaefer also mentioned that Dixon realizes how important hydropower is, and she said the Yukon Government would try to help wherever it can.
Schaefer also mentioned that the Municipality of Skagway has some money budgeted for West Creek planning it could use if it wants to go through with the feasibility study. AEA listed the borough as providing a match of $84,000 if the grant were approved.
The assembly will continue to discuss West Creek feasibility study options.
Mineral Exploration Roundup shows mines still interested in shipping from Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
Skagway municipal officials had 11 meetings at the 2013 Mineral Exportation Roundup with entities that hold vested interests in regional mining production and export.
The last week of January, Borough Assemblyman Mark Schaefer, Port Commissioners John Tronrud and Dave Hunz and Borough Lobbyist John Walsh traveled to Vancouver to make connections and discuss the future of Skagway’s port with mining companies, electric companies and government representatives.
The Skagway group met with Cameron Brown, chief operating officer of Western Copper and Gold Corp., a mining operation that has expressed interest in using Skagway as its port.
The company’s Casino Project should generate about $2.8 billion in wages and salaries, and Schaefer said Brown ensured there would be jobs for Skagway residents.
According to the Western Copper website, the Casino Project is one of the world's largest open-pit gold, copper, silver and molybdenum deposits
Brown said there would be a ship in port every ten days which would not only haul 35,000 tons of ore out, it would also bring in lime, grinding balls, steel and concrete for a backhaul to the mine.
Schaefer said Western Copper would be ready to begin its ore haul in 2017, and the life expectancy of the mine is about 10 years.
One thing Brown was very adamant about, Schaefer said, was the availability of the port.
Port access is important to Western Copper and the mine prefers the road be open at all times for it to transport its product in trucks, he said.
Schaefer said Western Copper would be watching to see what the municipality’s actions would be in regard to additional costs like the ones in the proposed Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority waterfront property lease, which was postponed indefinitely at the Jan. 3 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting after members decided to take the ordinance off the table.
Municipal officials also met with representatives from Capstone Mining Corp. and Eagle Industrial Minerals.
Eagle is in the process of obtaining its water permit and could be ready to haul product to Skagway for export late this summer. Schaefer said Skagway was mentioned as its port in a pre-feasibility study.
Capstone Mining Corp.’s Vice President Peter Hemstead said the company would continue to ship Minto Mine ore from Skagway’s port adding that the mine has about 10 years of production left. Schaefer said Hemstead has some concerns with Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and White Pass, starting with the wharfage charge dispute and settlement, purchase and lease agreement from White Pass to AIDEA, and the condition of Skagway’s Ore Dock.
Brad Thrall of Alexco told municipal officials that the company would continue shipping its product to Skagway with Lynden Transport.
Keith Boyle, COO of Chieftain Metals told officials his company would be ready to start production and would have a 10-year life.
Schaefer said Chieftain Metals would prefer to ship their product from Skagway, but it is waiting to see what the requirements will be.
Schaefer presented his notes from Roundup at Thursday night’s assembly meeting after this issue went to press.
“There were a lot of interesting things we learned from the meetings in Vancouver,” Schaefer said. “These meetings needed to happen.”
Schaefer said he hopes the assembly will use the information he brought back from the meetings while working on the post-2023 AIDEA waterfront lease, which he would like to see finished in the next couple of months.
RAVEN MYTH – Phillip Clark puts some finishing touches on one of the wings of the sculpture “Raven Myth,” Team Alaska’s entry this year at the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckinridge, Colo. at the end of January. The Skagway-based team was one of only two from the USA invited to the competition. While the sculpture did not win an award, it was well-received. See more photos on page 5. Courtesy of Tom Cochran
Recycling plan options narrowed from six to three
The Skagway Recycling Committee members have narrowed their findings down to three possible solid waste plans, one of which would be implemented this year pending assembly approval.
All three plans are concurrent with Skagway’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, in which residents expressed a want for a comprehensive recycling program.
The plans that scored highest among committee members were options two, four and five. There were six options in total.
• Option two, “Recycling Facility Only Scenario,” would continue incinerator use and include construction of a recycling facility.
• Option four, “Recycling and Composting Facilities Scenario,” would include recycling and compost facilities, and it would ship remaining municipal and special waste to the incinerator for disposal.
• Option five, “Recycling and Composting Facilities and Close Incinerator Scenario,” would include the construction of recycling and composting facilities and discontinue incinerator use. Waste which is not recycled or composted would be shipped to landfills in the Lower 48.
While all three plans would cut the cost of money spent on the incinerator, the fifth option would save the municipality more than $2 million over the next ten years. It is the only plan that would put the municipality in the black on solid waste spending.
The other options included plans that were not consistent with the Municipality’s Comprehensive Plan of 2020 because they lacked recycling plans.
Option number one would be to not change anything and leave the waste plan as it is with no recycling program.
Option three would incorporate only a composting facility to the already existing plan.
Option six was to close the incinerator and not implement a recycling and composting program. Under this option, the municipality would ship waste to landfills in the Lower 48.
The options were based on municipal data collected by SCS Engineers, an environmental engineering consultant firm that was contracted by the municipality to develop a concrete solid waste plan.
Recycling Committee Chair Mark Lohnes said the committee is about 50/50 between options four and five.
According to the SCS Engineer’s draft Solid Waste and Recycling Management plan, the two options scored within one point of each other, with option four receiving 22.5 points and option five receiving 21.5 points.
These options and other suggestions will be discussed further, and a plan recommendation with one of the three final options will be presented to the assembly for final approval this spring.
Tickets for trash not put out morning of garbage pickup
In an effort to curb bear activity in town the Municipality of Skagway will start enforcing its code on bear attraction nuisance by giving citations to those who put trash out before 4 a.m. on their garbage day.
According to municipal code 8.04.035, a bear attraction nuisance is more than one-half gallon of any organic material including packaging or other surfaces to which the material is adhered, anything that has attracted a bear to the property before or used disposable diapers.
“Material in a garbage can may be stored outside temporarily for purposes of collection after 4 a.m. on a day scheduled for collection,” the code states.
Those who are found to put their garbage out before the allowed time will receive a $50 fine on first warning, a $100 fine on second warning in two years, and a $300 fine on third warning in two years.
“I don’t think it’s enforcing the code as much as it is people doing the right thing,” said Skagway Public Works Chair Steve Burnham Jr., referring to helping keep bears out of town.
Four bears were spotted in town last fall, and all four are in hibernation and will be waking up in spring – hungry.
The Skagway’s Public Works and Public Safety Committees have been working together with the Skagway Police Department for several months in an effort to keep bears out of town in the spring because they already know there is food available in garbage cans.
Public safety building 35 percent design phase proceeds
The Skagway Public Safety Committee has approved the 35 percent design phase of the proposed public safety building, which will include both police and fire departments.
The committee recommended the design by Bettisworth North Architects and Planners to the Skagway Borough Assembly Thursday after this paper was printed.
During a Jan. 31 meeting, committee members expressed concerns to project architect Roy Rountree.
“Seventeen million (dollars) kind of put us all in a little shock here,” committee chair Gary Hanson said of the price tag.
On one hand, Hanson said, he isn’t sure if a community of about 750 year-round residents needs to spend that much on the building, while on the other, this building will potentially last the municipality 50 years.
Hanson said he hopes the architects could bring down the price without losing important facility amenities.
Right now, the preferred site for the proposed building is the pump station site on 17th Avenue, but if the municipality purchases the Garden City RV Park lot, it could also be considered for the construction.
West Creek Survey online
The West Creek Area Master Plan website is now up at www.sheinbergassociates.com/west-creek-master-plan .
It includes a link to a confidential community opinion survey that can be taken now through February 28.
At the project website (click link above), you can:
• Do the survey online at: www.tinyurl.com/westcreeksurvey, or
• Download a MS word version of the survey to fill-in and email back, and
• Download a working map of the area.
Paper copies of the survey and map are at borough offices. – KE
Skagway FTC Robotics students Rosalie Westfall, Riley Westfall and Al Weber watch their robot, “Try Again,” play Tic-Tac-Toe with a round plastic donut that the robot’s arm reaches high to hang on PVC pipe. The high school students will be competing against 14 other teams at the Southeast Regionals in Hoonah this weekend. More about the 2013 FTC team will appear in the next issue. Jeff Brady
Skagway School ups its safety procedures
The Skagway School will be increasing the safety of Skagway’s students by implementing new safety measures such as keeping all but one door locked for the entirety of the school day.
At the beginning of the January 29 Skagway School Board meeting, Superintendent Jeff Thielbar spoke about school safety.
“This is our first full meeting since the incident in Connecticut,” he said, referencing the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. “There are many concerns that came from that. I know we’re a little town in rural Alaska, but things can happen.”
Thielbar went on to discuss safety measurements the school could implement, which included keeping all outside doors locked except one central entrance.
By locking all doors except the ones located centrally, parents will have to walk through the main office doors to drop off and pick up their students which could be inconvenient, but Thielbar said he thinks the time and distance are worth the security.
The main entrance doors will not be unlocked until 7:30 a.m.
“We will be having lockdown drills in the next few weeks and giving students the opportunity to practice moving to safe locations and staying quiet in those safe locations with a teacher, as well,” Thielbar wrote in a release.
While there is no such thing as a 100 percent safe building, Thielbar said, the school is looking to implement other measures that will increase safety at Skagway School.
“One option we are considering is installing a large opening in the wall of the office so we can see who is coming in and out of the doors at the main entrance,” Thielbar wrote.
Other safety options include background checks for all Skagway School staff and installing cameras to monitor access to the building.
School board puts halt on team travel in vehicles if temperature is too cold
School Board members passed a motion that Skagway teams will not travel via automobile if it is colder than -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
During the hear citizen’s present part of the meeting, high school parent Tim Cochran said he is worried about kids traveling in the middle of winter when temperatures have been as low as -50F during travel time.
“Safety is number one and there is potential for anything to happen on that road in the middle of winter when we’re traveling for basketball,” Cochran said. “It’s concerning and I think we need to look at that.”
Later in the meeting, the board discussed an upcoming basketball trip to Tok.
“This is the one that gets me, and it gets me because of the 40-50 (degrees) below,” said Board Member Darren Belisle. “With our bus, that would be a definite no.”
Though Belisle said Tok has a great basketball tournament, travel is dangerous when there isn’t a good mode of transportation.
In the past, School Board President Stuart Brown said, he would not put students on his private bus if it was -20F and suggested the board set some parameters for traveling conditions.
“If it’s a certain temperature that just looks too dangerous for the kids to go, then maybe we just say it’s cancelled,” said Board Member John Hischer. “Anything below 10 degrees below zero is pretty dangerous, and I think anything below zero degrees is pretty dangerous when it comes to vehicles.”
Brown said he won’t drive as far as Log Cabin if it’s below zero because it’s dangerous, but would feel comfortable with the temperature cap of negative 10 for student activities travel.
The board approved the Tok basketball trip, weather dependent.
Along the lines of travel, Cochran also added that the Skagway School transportation bus is not meant for big kids, and said it was cruel and unusual punishment to travel in it for long periods of time.
Hischer said he thinks looking into purchasing another larger bus would be a good idea, as the current one is not made for middle school or high school students. – KE