February 24, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 3
Team Sprocketoids pose with their robot 5101 during the Southeast Tournament last weekend at Mt. Edgecumbe. From left are Rosalie Westfall, Riley Westfall, Trevor Cox, and Al Weber. See story below.
Photo by Vivian Meyer, SHS
Muni. rejects many White Pass demands, wants surrender of unimproved lands in lease
Mayor Selmer: Hoping for ‘favorable response’ after calls, meeting with ClubLink CEO Rai Sahi
By JEFF BRADY
The Municipality of Skagway, through its attorney, responded to the latest tidelands lease letter from White Pass with a rejection of most of the company's latest proposals and a demand that it surrender the "unimproved land not currently under sublease."
The municipality gave the company until Feb. 29 to return a favorable response or the assembly would "evaluate its options of eminent domain" for those lands.
Since the letter was sent on Feb. 8, Mayor Stan Selmer has had two phone conversations with Rai Sahi, the CEO of White Pass parent company ClubLink Enterprises, and Assemblyman and negotiator Dan Henry was in Florida this week and planned to meet with Sahi there.
In an interview on Feb. 17, Selmer said he was optimistic the conversations with Sahi would result in some sort of break-through on the tidelands lease “stalemate,” so the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority could proceed with its plans to attract new customers to its ore terminal on subleased land. The state agency received legislative approval last year to bond up to $65 million for expansion of the facility but wants its own tidelands lease before it can proceed with bonding.
At the request of the borough, White Pass president Eugene Hretzay had submitted a list of major terms on Jan. 17 in the latest round of trying to get the company to surrender part of the 1968-2023 tidelands lease. The borough has $15 million available to improve docking facilities, but needs site control in order to pour public money into the Ore Dock so it is better suited for larger ships.
However, even though Hretzay has stated he wants a deal, the company’s demands have not been seen as reasonable by the borough assembly. And after crafting the letter in two executive sessions, the assembly’s Feb. 8 response, through attorney Bob Blasco, has turned the negotiations in a different direction:
• In exchange for surrendering the western portion of the tidelands lease that contained the ore dock/terminal and several subleases, White Pass wanted an extension of the current lease for the eastern Broadway Dock side beyond its end date of 2023 for 20 years, with an option for two 10-year extensions to 2063. The borough said its code no longer allows leases in excess of 35 years and rejected it.
• White Pass also wanted an extension of its role as cruise terminal operator at the Ore Dock and to be in charge of vessel berthing priority to 2063. The municipality responded that it did not agree to “appointing” White Pass as the operator and would solicit requests for proposals for post-2023. Selmer said the response was “an effort to perhaps entice additional dialog about the possibility of continuing the lease past 2023.”
• In perhaps the biggest change in direction, the municipality’s letter stated that, instead of seeking surrender of the entire western section of the tidelands lease, it now “asks only for the surrender of unimproved tidelands and unimproved uplands not currently under sublease” as outlined in a map attachment. As a result, the borough would no longer have to negotiate with White Pass on a figure for lost revenue from subleases to 2023, but it would agree to a “minimal reduction in annual lease payments.” If White Pass demanded more compensation, then the borough would do so only after it had “completed its statutory right to a complete audit of White Pass.”
Those unimproved tidelands include any area where there is no sublease or economic activity, Selmer explained, including in the water south of the TEMSCO heliport for new uplands for a roll-on, roll-off facility or another dock. The map included a narrow right-of-way across the current parking/tour staging area for a possible buried conveyor to transport ore to a new dock that is being contemplated by Selwyn-Chihong, a customer that wants to come to Skagway. Selmer said he needs to meet with Alaska Power & Telephone to make sure the proposed right-of-way location would not disrupt the underwater power line to Haines. He added that the assembly does not see any conflicts with the heliport landing zone.
Selmer said the proposal does not preclude development of new uplands at the north end of the Ore Dock, as proposed in the first phase “legacy dock” improvements for the Gateway Project.
“Maybe we’ll do both,” he said, adding that at recent meetings in Vancouver, Capstone, the terminal’s current customer, has expansion plans for the Minto Mine and there are other mines looking at Skagway. “If that’s going to be the case, why not have two ship loaders?”
Selmer noted the municipality is at a “slightly disadvantageous point right now, because we are trying to deal with what I would call stalemated efforts with White Pass, and at the same time we’re trying to get AIDEA to bring forth the draft of a lease that we can start talking about” and get out to the public.
He said they were not giving up on the original Gateway concepts.
“What we’re trying very hard to do is create a way for AIDEA to start soliciting customers to use a new facility,” the mayor said, adding that the surrender of unimproved uplands by White Pass could allow for AIDEA to lease them from the borough “and provide stability for the customer.”
• Another concern is attracting large cruise ships in the near future. White Pass has said it has permits in hand to construct a $2.5 million floating dock addition to the Ore Dock this fall in order to service “Solstice” class ships next year, but it wanted the municipality to buy the dock. In its response, the borough said it is agreeable to “make necessary efforts to construct, own and operate the floating dock utilizing the White Pass permits.” The borough recently put in a request to the legislature for those funds from the state’s cruise passenger fees. Selmer said “time is of the essence.”
• The borough also objected to White Pass’s demands that Wells Fargo sign off on any agreement, saying anything between the company and the bank is their concern. It also said White Pass cannot demand indemnification from any environmental liability as a result of proposed dredging of tidelands for fill for new municipal uplands, because any obligations and potential liabilities for past practices would be governed by state and federal law. “It’s just the law,” Selmer said.
The final part of the letter stated that the municipality had been “reasonable and patient” in its efforts to negotiate a new lease for two years, but that the assembly had “reached the end of its ability to continue negotiations in this manner and at this length.” It requested only the surrender of the unimproved land not currently under sublease.
“The assembly realizes that the year-round economy for the community is being threatened by the inability to reach agreement on a reasonable lease resolution with White Pass,” the letter stated, and concluded with the need for a “favorable response” by the close of business Feb. 29 or the assembly would “evaluate its options of eminent domain as to the unimproved land not currently under sublease.”
Selmer said the frustration by the assembly was apparent when he took office in October, but acknowledged that no real negotiations had taken place, only an exchange of letters. He said they brought in a second attorney from Anchorage to look at the leases to see if either party was in a noncompliance situation, and also to look at the options to “put us in a position to make a statement like we did in this letter.”
Selmer said the statement about eminent domain was made with the realization that they could be entering “a very long process to take this land back, but absent the option to have it be a willing buyer, willing seller type of atmosphere, we don’t have any choice.”
White Pass’s Jan. 17 letter stated Sahi preferred the municipality negotiate directly with Hretzay, but Selmer said he called Sahi to see “where he was in this process.” He was directed by the assembly to do so when they sent the letter. He spoke to Sahi on Feb. 14, and then, after another executive session on Feb. 16, the assembly directed him to continue the conversations. They talked again the next morning. Henry and Borough Manager Tom Smith were included in the calls.
Selmer said the circumstances of Henry being in Florida this week on a personal trip enabled the meeting between the assemblyman and the CEO, who winters at Fort Lauderdale.
“Both Rai Sahi and Dan Henry are fairly passionate about golf,” he said.
The mayor noted that there was a “comfort level” in the phone conversations and that Sahi appeared amenable to some of their requests.
“I would be quite hopeful that we would get something from White Pass before or on the 29th,” he said. “And I’m optimistic that it will be favorable, but I know that the assembly and former mayor were optimistic a number of times as well, and optimism didn’t reign supreme after we got the reply.”
UPDATE: A letter was received on Feb. 29 and the Borough Assembly planned to discuss it in executive session on March 1.
Team Sprocketoids conquers Southeast
Team advances to State FTC competition in Fairbanks
By JEFF BRADY
Entering their first high school robotics tournament, the members of Skagway Team Sprocketoids did not know what to expect. Some were state champs in junior high, but the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) level required more advanced skills used in building programming and controlling a large robot.
They were FTC rookies, so they hoped for the best.
And the best is what they would be. After a weekend of fierce competition among 10 teams at the region tourney at Mount Edgecumbe, the rookie team from Skagway returned with the Inspire Award, which is presented to the best team at the tournament.
“We dethroned the champs on their home turf,” said coach Vivian Meyer. “The robot did really well, we were part of the winning alliance.”
In FTC, two teams are allied against robots from two other teams on opposite bases of a large pit. They then hit the pit all at the same time, trying to avoid each other to accomplish tasks and score points. Prior to the tournament, the Skagway team had not practiced with another team. They didn’t even have a second robot to steer around.
In fact, their robot 5101 – on its third rebuild– wasn’t ready until just moments before a home debut exhibition on Feb. 13, two days before they left for Sitka.
The four students showed a short movie about their robot, and then explained their robot design to a crowd of about 30 gathered in the school library.
Meyer said this was good practice for the judges. Unlike FIRST Lego League, where a project is presented around a theme that may have little link to the robotics aspect, an FTC team focuses mostly on the robot. The high school students have to keep a notebook about their engineering and programming of the robot. The notebook is flagged in 10 spots, and the judges turn to those and ask questions.
And there were good questions from the local audience to get them ready, starting with asking what their roles are.
Little admirers watch the robot forklift line up to move a crate and knock over some balls; team members talk to the public about their robot design. Jeff Brady
Alexandra Weber said she was the main programmer, and worked with other teams around the state in phone conferences to develop the robot’s movements. Rosalie Westfall also worked on programming and set up a Twitter account for communicating with other teams.
The guys, Riley Westfall and Trevor Cox, were involved in building the 18-inch-tall robot and driving it with a controller.
When asked if everyone drove the robot, Rosalie Westfall replied, pointing to the boys, “No, they’ve been sitting on couches a lot longer.”
After the laughter died down, Riley Westfall and Cox shrugged and explained how they had looked at forklifts at the White Pass shops to get an idea how their robot would look and function. More than anything, it had to be stable while being able to perform tasks in the pit.
Team members explained how the wheels were changed from basic wheels to treads, and then finally to “omni wheels” that allowed the robot to maneuver more like a four-wheel-drive car. They also explained how the robot was constructed, adding bumpers to protect the robot’s three motor systems. One motor drives and steers the robot, one works the forklift so it can pick up and stack crates, and a third is a lift/conveyer that scoops up and spits out small racquet balls. Parent John Westfall assisted them as they moved back and forth from the pit to the school shop to hacksaw and sand metal pieces for the right fit. Earlier versions of the robot made it top-heavy and it tipped over, or it ran over balls and high-centered on them, or it simply couldn’t climb the ramp.
But by the time of the debut in Skagway, it was ready, though Rosalie confessed that the robot “tried to kill me” when it “spazzed and tipped over” in practice that afternoon.
Moving into the practice pit, which takes up most of the room just off the library, they first gave everyone, especially children close to the pit, protective goggles.
Then the “baseball charge” bugle call signaled the start of its “Bowled Over” mission. The robot drove, on its own, down its base ramp and sought out a larger “bowling ball” to move into a designated area in the corner. Those first 30 seconds are programmed, then there are two minutes of robot movement by one of the team members on a controller. It would attempt to knock over crates with smaller balls, seize a crate with its forks, pick up balls, spit them into a crate, and then stack the crate as high as possible. There were dings and whistles too.
As the robot whizzed across the playing surface, dodging obstacles of the opposite color, and trying to score points, it was difficult to imagine how it would be with three other robots in the same-size pit. They have just a short time to speak with their alliance partner about what missions to start out with, so they don’t run into each other. They have a choice of three programmed missions to choose from. Then they have to work together to score even more points, and avoid hitting the other teams and losing points.
When someone asked if they could try and knock other teams out, one of the students replied, “That’s illegal, you can be kicked out of the tournament if you are too aggressive.” So with this knowledge and apprehension, they moved on to Sitka. Meyer said it was “very competitive.”
After their robot design presentation, there were 14 heats in which they allied with the nine other teams at the tournament, and then they were ranked. Skagway scored high and chose a team from Juneau as it alliance partner for the rest of the tournament. They then advanced in best-of-three matches to the championship round, which they won.
“Our robot was so skookum, it worked really well,” Meyer said. “Others fell over.”
She said Skagway’s robot was so strong that her son Riley was able to help its ally by “shoving it up the ramp.”
She added, “Our kids put in the most amount of work into their robot. It was pretty solid.” During the awards ceremony, they were given the FIRST Tech Challenge Inspire Award for first place.
“It means you’ve done everything,” Meyer said, “and they gave us a huge banner to hang up. It was pretty neat.”
Along with the award at the Southeast qualifying tournament came an invitation to the next level, which is the state championship competition in Fairbanks at the Patty Center on the University of Alaska campus on March 2-3.
The FLL team also received good news. They were invited to nationals at LEGOLAND in California in May. A fundraiser for both robotics teams is being held tonight at the Elks.
Skagway community, assembly active with Pullen Creek Streamwalk planning process
By KATIE EMMETS
In a Feb. 15 meeting with the community, Taiya Inlet Watershed Council executive director A.J. Conley told residents that the popular Pullen Pond and Pullen Creek areas are being “loved to death” by interested tourists and adoring residents.
By creating a streamwalk, which would stretch from the beginning of Pullen Creek to the McCabe Building, not only would restoration work be possible for the creek and pond, but the design would create an environment for tourists and residents to enjoy the area while learning about why it exists.
“The streamwalk would highlight riparian habitat that is Pullen Creek and the fish within it and also highlight the culture and history that makes Skagway such a great community,” said Chris Mertl, a landscape architect from Corvus Design.
Mertl, who was hired to assist in the design of the project, said creating the streamwalk would allow for riparian restoration work to reestablish and create a healthier environment for the fish, but also create a better experience for people who live in or visit Skagway.
“You’ve got something that’s really unique here with Pullen Creek that no other community in Southeast Alaska has,” Mertl said. “You step off the cruise ship and you have a anadromous fish stream right there.”
The proposed walk would be an 8-foot wide trail and would begin at the Broadway Dock and end at the Skagway Museum. Mertl said it would most likely be created using aggregated gravel because it is the safest material, most cost efficient and easiest to put down.
The streamwalk would be located only on municipal land, not private property, and it would be a year-round recreational trail for locals to walk or ride a bicycle on.
The trail would create sidewalks, which would guide tourists easily and reduce the congestion area near the train property, and it would be a year-round recreational trail for locals to walk or ride a bicycle on.
Mertl said the trail, which will create sidewalks, would alleviate Pullen Pond being trampled during the summer months and would better control where people walk in the area, reducing the congestion near the train tracks.
Along with being informative and recreational, the trail would also be functional by creating an alternate route into town.
STREAMING LIVE – Landscape architect Chris Mertl shows design plans to Rachel Ford and A.J. Conley of the TIWC and John Hudson of the USF&W Service. Katie Emmets
Because it stretches from the Broadway Dock to the museum, it will reduce foot traffic on Broadway Street and also slow people down, which Mertl said might lead to tourists spending more time in the community, resulting in more money spent in Skagway shops.
The interpretation signs along the trail would be uniform, read like a story and include information such as Skagway’s culture and history, the history of Pullen Creek and the life cycle of salmon.
Observation platforms and bridges would be placed at key locations along the streamwalk to allow for better views of the salmon without visitors trampling the plants or harming the fish.
Mertl said the streamwalk could also become a marketing tool, adding that tourists would tell their friends about the walk when they get back from their cruises.
“People start talking about it – that they got off the cruise ship and they were hanging out with salmon and Skagway has this wonderful run right in the middle of its community,” he said. “I really think it is a great opportunity for Skagway.”
Planning for the streamwalk began in 2011 and included the community and a steering committee made up of members of the assembly, the municipality, the National Park Service, Alaska Power and Telephone, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and White Pass & Yukon Route.
Mertl said Skagway residents and the steering committee have been phenomenal about giving input.
In September, blank maps were laid on tables and residents and steering committee members used them to draw out what they envisioned the streamwalk to be.
“All of the ideas came from the community,” Mertl said. “We’ve just used our professional expertise to polish them up.”
Mertl said he will take the input that was discussed in recent meetings with community members and the steering committee and come back to Skagway with a concrete plan with costs in about six to eight weeks.
Mertl described the creation of the project as a phased approach.
On the maps that were presented to the borough assembly in a Feb. 16 meeting, there were solid lines and dashed lines. The solid lines indicated items necessary to the creation of the trail, and dashed lines indicated options that could be added when funding becomes available.
Mertl said the design plan could be used as a tool to break down costs and prioritize according to the amount of funding available. It could also used to apply for outside funding and grants.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said he appreciated the planning done so far.
“From what I have seen, I think you guys are doing a great job,” Korsmo said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to help it move forward when you come back to us.”
For maps of the streamwalk’s proposed plan and other information gathered at community meetings, visit the project’s blog at http://pullencreek-streamwalk.blogspot.com.
Misty Wiley fills new part-time KHNS position in Skagway
First radio reporter here in a decade
By KATIE EMMETS
For the past two and a half months, Skagway’s presence on KHNS has risen with the hire of a new part-time Skagway reporter.
Since December, Skagway resident Misty Wiley has been covering Skagway Borough Assembly meetings and other important issues around the community.
“Hiring a Skagway reporter was something we wanted to work into the budget for a long time now,” said KHNS News Director Tara Bicknell.
Bicknell said the new addition is the direct result of last year’s monetary support from its listeners.
With membership being up and fundraising and grant work flourishing, the station was able to work in a part-time Skagway reporter this year.
“As news director, I’m interested in having a full newsroom,” Bicknell said. “Having a Skagway reporter really expands the amount of news we’re able to cover, and more reporters bring more ideas to the table.”
It has been 10 years since KHNS has employed a Skagway reporter. Its last one, Amada Stossel, left in 2002.
When Bicknell arrived in 2008, she made it a point to visit Skagway in an attempt to give it equal coverage on the radio. But since hiring Wiley in December, Bicknell hasn’t had to worry about doing it all herself.
When the part-time reporting job was advertised, there wasn’t a lot of interest from the Skagway community, and only five residents applied, Bicknell said.
“We were looking for someone who was living in Skagway year-round and had job experience,” she said. “Misty met both qualifications.”
Bicknell said Wiley is thorough, which makes for a good reporter and a good coworker. While adding the part-time reporting position, KHNS also added a newsroom to its already existing studio in the Skagway Recreation Center.
“It’s a big advancement for the Skagway studio to now have audio and editing equipment,” Bicknell said.
Misty Wiley works in the Skagway studio. Katie Emmets
Right now, the speakers to the studio computer aren’t working, so KHNS has supplied Wiley with a laptop until they are fixed. Speakers are coming.
Because funding fluctuates from year to year, Bicknell said she doesn’t know if the Skagway position will always be in the budget. If the listeners say they want to keep the position, KHNS will try hard to fund it, she said.
Wiley’s husband Randy is treasurer on the KHNS Board of Directors, and he encouraged his wife to apply for the reporting job.
“I always thought it would be cool to be that cool to be on the radio,” Wiley said. “But I never thought I was.”
Prior to working for KHNS, Wiley’s journalism experience included reporting for the Templar Times at Manti High School in Utah when she was a student.
“I covered whatever came up; whatever the teacher wanted me to cover,” she said. “Kind of like what I do for this job now.”
Though the part-time job description is listed as 12 hours per week, Wiley said she donates about three extra because she wants her stories to be done well.
“Most of the time, I don’t even keep track of how many hours I work,” she said. “It’s not many hours, but it’s fun.”
When Wiley receives her assignments, she researches them to figure out what is newsworthy and what is not. Then, when she covers a meeting or interviews a source, she uses a digital recorder and uploads the interviews onto a computer.
While going through her interview recordings, Wiley said she always looks for lighthearted quotes that her sources say to make the story more fun and interesting.
With each story Wiley reports, she must narrate the story by recording her own voice for the piece.
After reading her script into recorder the first time, Wiley will play it back, and depending on how much she does or does not like her voice, she could wind up rerecording it up to five times.
“I always think I sound terrible, but every time I turn a story in, Tara’s like, ‘it sounds great,’” she said with a laugh. “I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how I sound, so that’s a good thing,”
The Wileys moved to Skagway six years ago, and have been listening to KHNS ever since. Wiley said she and Randy are supportive of local events and music.
“It’s nice to listen to a station that has something of a local endeavor and music that’s not part of a big conglomerate,” she said.
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Negotiations to extend borough manager contract
In an executive session in a Feb. 2 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, the assembly voted to extend borough manager Tom Smith’s contract.
Smith said the negotiations will start in the next few weeks, and that his current contract is up in the middle of April.
“It is a pleasure and an honor to work for this community,” Smith said.
Details or contract length will be worked out in negotiations.
Gold Rush Cemetery bridge named for Martin Itjen
In a Feb. 16 meeting, Mayor Stan Selmer made a proclamation that named the bridge at the Gold Rush Cemetery the Martin Itjen Bridge.
“I am pleased to proclaim the foot bridge of the gold rush cemetery to be named the Martin Itjen Bridge in recognition of the many contributions that Martin Itjen made to the community of Skagway,” Selmer said.
As stated in the proclamation, Itjen is popularly known as the father of organized tours in Skagway.
In the 1920s, Itjen started the Skagway Street Car Co., which met all passenger boats at the docks and gave tours of the Skagway valley.
“Martin Itjen is responsible for developing the Gold Rush Cemetery as a tourist attraction, featuring the famous and infamous and other characters of interest,” stated the proclamation.
Itjen created trails in and around the cemetery, one of which contains the footbridge and leads to Reid’s Falls.
Selmer said that there would be a ceremony put on by the Skagway Parks and Recreation Committee and Carl Mulvihill, who pushed for the naming of the bridge. – KE
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Board to negotiate new contract with Thielbar
Following an evaluation of the superintendent in executive session at the Feb. 21 Skagway School Board meeting, board president Christine Ellis said the board voted to extend Superintendent Jeff Thielbar’s contract.
Thielbar’s two-year contract will be up this year.
The board will start negotiations with Thielbar, and it does not have a set time to accomplish the negotiations, but Ellis said they would like to complete the process as soon as possible.
Curriculum work ahead
Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said they would be aligning the new curriculum towards Common Core standards, which encompass 47 of the 50 United States, and also to Alaska standards.
The Common Core standards were compiled and written two years ago after six state governors decided there needed to be common, nation-wide standards that curriculums should meet. Alaska chose not to be a part of the program, but its own language arts curriculum will be made public this summer.
Thielbar said the curriculum committee, which is made up of two teachers, two board members and himself, will be aligning the curriculum more towards the Common Core.
Though the Common Core standards have the potential to be higher than Alaska standards, Thielbar anticipates that students would rise to the occasion and succeed.
Skagway School Board President Christine Ellis said the teachers are updating the language arts curriculum first, and will have it implemented by the start of the 2012 school year.
Following language arts will be a revamping of mathematics curriculum to be implemented in 2013, social studies in 2014, and science in 2015.
“It is a horrendous undertaking,” Ellis said of the realignment. “Along with changing the curriculum, we have to update all of the books, workbooks and other materials.”
Ellis said the realignment would take place in all grades, kindergarten through twelfth.
“It’s like building blocks. You have to put one on top of the other, so they have to be in line,” she said about the grades.
During this process, both teachers and board members have been attending in-state curriculum alignment training.
Kent Fielding will be attending a curriculum alignment institute March 8-9, and his travel will be paid for by a grant from the Rural Education Achievement Program, which also funded the teachers’ trip to Juneau in September.
Ellis said the school is saving a lot of money by sending teachers and board members out to attend curriculum training and doing the realignment in-house.
“There are companies out there that you can pay a lot of money, and they will come into the school and realign the curriculum for you,” she said, adding that doing themselves is benificial because the teachers are already familiar with the programs and the students.
Thielbar also added that the school would be looking to add Kindles or iPads to the curriculum for students to upload textbooks and required reading novels instead of carrying multiple books around each day.
Tim Cochran, who attended the Feb. 21 school board meeting, said literary classics are free on Kindles.
Right now, Mary Thole’s fourth and fifth grade classes are piloting a study on Kindle usage in the classroom.
“The students love them,” Thielbar said. “They move through their reading at a much quicker pace with the Kindles.”
Thielbar said once you download a book, excluding textbooks, onto a computer, that book could be put onto multiple Kindles. Instead of paying for one physical book per student, the school would be paying for one book that could be downloaded to the entire class’s Kindle. – KE