March 23, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 5
Long Trek to the Top
A group of five skiers and a dog make the long trek up a slope in front of Feather Peak on the international border during the Backcountry Bash & Ball weekend. See more photos in our Skagway Snowfest Gallery.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Businesses and building owners discuss fire’s effects on season
Fire Marshal report won’t be complete for a few weeks
By KATIE EMMETS
By KATIE EMMETS
The fire that tore through the roof of one downtown building and caused severe water damage in another is still under investigation.
Deputy Fire Marshall Robert Plumb of Juneau said it would take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete the investigation into the March 6 fire that started in the Westmark Inn’s 600 wing on Spring Street and 2nd Avenue and spread to the Diamonds International building next door.
After Plumb is done writing the investigation report, it will go to the life safety inspector, who will review it, and then to the assistant fire marshal in Anchorage for final review.
At this point Plumb said he is unsure of what caused the fire and will not be able to say until the investigation is completed.
But when he was in Skagway investigating the building on March 9, he got a little unexpected help.
Plumb was able to utilize pictures of the fire that Skagway News editor Jeff Brady took for the newspaper.
“The pictures were very helpful,” Plumb said. “They provided a means to create a timeline. We were able to get the area where it started and how it progressed though the building.”
Though the part of the building located on Spring Street is still standing, Plumb said he thinks the entire 40 feet by 100 feet structure will have to be torn down.
“The fire would have probably been much more minor if the building had sprinklers,” he said, adding that it is one of more than five buildings in Skagway’s Business Historic District that does not have sprinklers.
In a March 15 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, several business owners spoke about the importance of sprinklers in the historic district.
Red Onion owner Jan Wrentmore said she had to replace her building’s piping recently because it was corroding and the sprinklers wouldn’t be able to function properly without replacement.
“I would urge the assembly to stay with that sprinkler grant program, and it should include the old buildings (that have older sprinkler pipes that are rotting),” she said.
Kirmse’s owner Cara Cosgrove said her business used to be located on 3rd Avenue and, she thinks the lifetime on the piping is about to expire and like Wrentmore, encouraged the assembly to include those buildings in its program.
Diamonds International building owner David Brena had been in Hawaii for less than a day when the fire hit his building.
The sprinklers ran for two days in the Diamonds International building, and Brena returned from Hawaii to fire, smoke and water damage.
Brenna said water damage was the worst of the three.
“Even in places where the fire wasn’t, there was about a foot of water,” he said.
The fire from the 600 wing crept into the northeast corner of the Diamonds International building where employee housing is located.
“The back portion of the apartments are destroyed,” he said.
There are 12 bedrooms on the second floor, and Brena said he could not go into any of them because there is no floor in one portion, and the other portion no longer has floor supports.
“It is highly unlikely they will use the building this season,” he said. “Luckily DI has another store.”
Diamonds International also rents the Pack Train building and has housing on Alaska Street.
Though Mike Coller and Mark Jennings of M&M Tours lost their only downtown office in the 600 wing, they have two sites near the docks.
Jennings told the assembly that the best solution would be to expand the size of the building by the Railroad Dock, and because M&M is renting it from the municipality, Jennings and Coller asked if the assembly would pick up the cost of expansion.
The building was only supposed to serve as a temporary home to the company, and the municipality was supposed to replace the building with a larger, more permanent structure while creating the seawalk. Jennings says the roof leaks in four different areas when it rains.
Jennings and Coller have already received bids from two separate contractors who both said they could finish the construction before cruise ship season starts.
The building would expand to an 18-by-30 structure and it would have inviting double doors in the front and the bids range from $45,000 to $76,000.
The expansion of the building would also keep the company from firing any of its 11 sales representatives because, as is, the building only fits three at a time.
“M&M Is the primary tour seller in town and everyone works with them,” said Assemblyman Paul Reichert. “This is long overdue. We said we were going to put a building there, and time is really of the essence here.”
The Assembly was in agreement that the municipality would pick up the tab for the construction.
Holland America-Princess Alaska manages the Westmark Inn’s buildings, and HAP-Alaska spokesman Bruce Bustamonte said the company has no news to share at this point.
The building also housed Avis, which will move to another location in the Westmark for the time being. The third tenant, Skagway Jewelers, has another Broadway store to fall back on.
White Pass agrees to unimproved tidelands surrender
Vote to proceed waits for full assembly; floating dock commitment made to RCCL
By JEFF BRADY
White Pass president Eugene Hretzay has agreed to the latest terms offered by the Municipality of Skagway for a surrender of unimproved lands in the tidelands lease, but the borough is waiting for a full assembly vote before authorizing its attorney to proceed.
A March 14 letter from Hretzay asked borough attorney Robert Blasco to draft documents “to facilitate the surrender of unimproved tidelands and uplands not currently under sublease.” Hretzay also stated that the company would proceed with construction of a floating dock at its Railroad Dock to accommodate bigger cruise ships from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines during the 2013 season.
After an executive session at its March 15 meeting, a motion to go ahead and have Blasco draft the surrender document did not gain the four votes needed for passage. Tim Cochran, Dave Hunz and Mark Schaefer voted for it, while Paul Reichert and Dan Henry, who made the motion, voted against it. Mike Korsmo attended via teleconference but, by borough rules, was unable to participate in the executive session and vote on this issue.
“I read nothing into (the vote) other than we did not have a full assembly, and the general feeling continues to be to have everyone there,” said Mayor Stan Selmer. “I’m not overly concerned about it.”
Reichert said his “primary concern was we should have a full assembly before moving on anything that important.”
Another vote is expected either on April 5 or April 19, whenever a full assembly is present.
The mayor said the assembly will continue to have problems making important winter votes with members away, until they change the code to allow teleconferencing members to participate in executive sessions. He said there is no state law prohibiting it. “It’s a Skagway law,” he said. “We allow our lobbyist and attorney to sit in, why not an assembly member?”
Selmer said the delay should not affect a recent commitment made to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines by Skagway to have a floating dock in place for its larger Solstice class ships for the 2013 cruise season.
The floating dock, which will allow better access to decks for off-loading passengers, was originally going to be constructed at the Ore Dock as White Pass’s contribution to the Gateway Project on the west side of the port. But White Pass then hinged it on things it wanted in the tidelands lease negotiations last year, and in February said it would only agree to construct the already-permitted facility there if the borough was willing to allow the company to be the cruise terminal operator at the Ore Dock past the tidelands lease’s end in 2023.
The assembly refused, saying such services would go out to bid after 2023. Assembly members only agreed to discuss an extension of the Broadway Dock lease tract past 2023. White Pass then said it would construct a floating facility at its own privately held dock.
In the March 14 letter, Hretzay responded, “Regarding construction of the floating dock at our Railroad Dock, please advise your client that we will use our best efforts to meet Royal Caribbean requirements in 2013; however subject to any permitting and construction delays.”
Selmer said March 14 was also a deadline to notify Royal Caribbean of Skagway’s 2013 commitments. White Pass now says it will construct the floating dock for $4 million, but a previous estimate on the Ore Dock side was $2.5 million. Selmer said the borough still has a request for the latter amount before the Legislature as a back-up plan.
“The borough and White Pass have committed to having that dock in place by 2013,” Selmer said. “Whether it’s by White Pass or the city remains to be seen.”
Gretchen Jasperson and Kristin Wagner share a laugh as they fold racer shirts Tuesday night. They are among the 75-plus volunteers who help make the ski race happen year after year. Jeff Brady
Buckwheat founder bows out as race moves into new era with LCSS
By KATIE EMMETS
The 26th annual Buckwheat Ski Classic marks the last one that founder Buckwheat Donahue will participate in, so he says.
Donahue has passed the torch to the newly formed Log Cabin Ski Society, which was started by Skagway residents who want to make sure the race will continue year after year.
At the end of last year’s race, Donahue announced he would not return to head the event, which led to the creation of the society.
Though the society has been doing the bulk of the planning, Donahue stayed around to make sure the transition went smoothly, and to help secure funding for the event.
Donahue said he is sad to go, but added that it is time for someone new to take over the ski classic because he is getting old.
Online registrations for Saturday’s race hit 311 by Tuesday night’s deadline, and Log Cabin Ski Society secretary Jeff Brady said they have about 20 participants who signed up using the paper brochures.
Brady said he expects the race to have around 350 total skiers on race day. Late registrations will be accepted at today’s bib pick-ups at AB Hall in Skagway or Coast Mountain Sports in Whitehorse from 5 to 7 p.m.
The entry fee includes breakfast, a Buckwheat Ski Classic t-shirt, the cross-country race, and dinner.
Breakfast will be from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street and 5th Avenue, and Dyea Dave will begin shuttling racers to Log Cabin immediately after.
The 50k starts at 9:30 a.m., the 25k starts at 9:45 a.m. and the 10k starts at 10 a.m. The kid’s 5k will start at 11:30 a.m. All races are at Log Cabin, where trail crew volunteers reported excellent conditions this week.
Since Monday, members of Skagway’s award-winning Team Alaska has been at the Log Cabin aid station working on a snow sculpture to the theme of these year’s Chinese zodiac sign — the dragon.
The day will end at the Skagway Recreation Center with dinner, awards and dancing till midnight to the sounds of Chrome Forest, with an intro set by Skagway’s own Jester.
Results, photos and more will be posted at the race website: www.buckwheatskiclassic.com.
Imagination Library – Local kids got together on March 17 at the Skagway Library to listen to Carol Nelson read “The Carrot Seed” and then planted carrot seeds of their own to take home. Katie Emmets
Library expansion design close to completion, public meeting next
By KATIE EMMETS
After three years of planning, the Skagway Library expansion designs are in the final stages, and the project should be put out to bid early this summer.
On March 20, the Skagway Library Board held a meeting with two architects from MRV architects in Juneau.
The Municipality of Skagway hired MRV in 2009 to design the building.
At the meeting, the board looked at the design plans the architects drew up and shared their opinions on what they would like to see.
“They are going to see things from a design perspective, but we are the ones who are going to know what it’s going to be like inside once it’s completed,” said librarian Julene Fairbanks.
According to the project development plan, the library was last modified in 1988 and is suffering from serious space shortages.
Some of the main reasons for the expansion are lack of computer space, lack of reading room and lack of a young adult section.
The renovations will allow larger areas for all three.
After construction, five computers will be added to the existing three and they will be located toward the front of the library, so patrons don’t have to rustle through readers to gain access. Fairbanks also said there will be seating structures outside for those with personal laptops to use the free Wi-Fi from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There will also be a quiet place for testing inside the library.
The youth section will have a few stacks for books and two tables for homework or research.
Fairbanks said the renovations to the building would make space for everyone.
The entryway will be twice as big and it will open up to a new circulation desk. The restrooms, which will be located where the staff office and current circulation desk are, will be American Disabilities Act approved — something the restrooms now are not.
The renovations will also provide for big windows on the south side of the building to allow more sunlight to shine in.
“It is going to become a place in the winter that people will want to be,” Fairbanks said.
The total cost of the building is $1.3 million.
The library has received a grant from the State of Alaska for half of the $1.3 million which totals $667,000, the municipality has bonded $500,000 to the library after a public vote and also kicked in $80,000 for the design, the Rasmuson Foundation has contributed $100,000 plus an additional $41,000 for the predevelopment work.
Because furniture and other fixtures were not included in the plan, the library board is working to raise money for spots like the children’s area and the new reading area. The board will be selling mugs and flowers and has been holding bake sales at Fairway Market.
Fairbanks also said the library has already received about $2,000 in personal donations from members of the community.
In the Tuesday meeting, architects said the reconstruction of this building would take its age back to zero, basically starting over.
The 5,014 square foot building will cost $207.72 per square foot to construct because they are adding on to an existing building. If starting from scratch, the construction would have cost about $400 per square foot, Fairbanks said.
Because construction is set to start on September 1, the library will be temporarily moving to Skagway School’s library in August and will remain there until renovations are complete in May, the target completion date.
The Skagway Borough Assembly decided it would be best to do the expansion during winter months to allow Skagway locals a chance to have winter work. Moving the project from the summer to the winter, however, will make the cost rise because it will take longer to complete.
Fairbanks said she encourages members of the Skagway community to stop by the library and look at the project development plan to see what the building will look like when renovations are finished.
MRV Architects will be coming back the first week in May to hold a public meeting before finalizing the designs. When the plans are final, they municipality will put the project out to bid.
The 1914 Skagway girls basketball team poses for a team photo. Courtesy of Chuck and Leada Ask
AB Hall to bring Skagway past to present
By KATIE EMMETS
In two months, locals, seasonal workers and tourists will be able to learn more about post-gold rush Skagway thanks to a mini museum in the back room of Arctic Brotherhood Hall.
Because Skagway covers the gold rush so well, Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said he wanted tourists to have access to more recent history.
Donahue said the mini museum would be ready before May 11, the date of the 60th Skagway Reunion.
Though it is an annual reunion, this will just be the third time in 60 years it will be held in Skagway.
Chuck and Leada Ask, organizers of the reunion, sent in about 40 pictures to contribute to the project.
“There’s some pretty cool stuff,” Donahue said. “There are some of Oscar and Bobby Selmer, there’s one of the train tracks going down Broadway in the 1930s, there’s one that shows the 1914 Skagway girl’s basketball team. Their uniforms go all the way down to their ankles. Boy, we’ve come a long way.”
Donahue said there are still a few Skagway residents who could go into the back room and know many of the people in the photographs.
The bulk of the photos displayed in AB Hall will range from the years between 1915 and 1960, but there will also be some present-day photos.
The goal, he said, is to choose 15 to 20 photos to display at one time and rotate them out every six to 12 months, so there will be new things to see which will make the exhibit worth revisiting.
Donahue also plans to have display cases in the back room to compliment the photos.
He is working with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park to acquire items from the Rapuzzi collection that coincide with the dates of the photos.
Though the exhibit is free, there will be a donations box, and Donahue said he plans to add to the room when time and money permit.
Those who have photos they think would be appropriate for this project can bring them to the CVB offices at AB Hall. Donahue said he couldn’t guarantee they will be used right away, but said they would be helpful.
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Noise permit approved, curtailed after complaints
After going through two appeal processes, the Skagway Brewing Company received a permit that exempted it from needing to comply with the noise ordinance.
Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett said he received a request from Brew Co. owner Mike Healy to wave the decibel level requirement of a 70-decibel maximum for his bar/restaurant for Backcountry Bash festivities the weekend of March 16.
Leggett said Healy’s request did not explain in detail why he wanted an exemption, and because he didn’t think it was necessary, he denied Healy’s request.
Healy appealed the denial to Leggett once more before taking it to Borough Manager Tom Smith, who suggested Healy appeal the denial before the assembly.
In a March 15 meeting, Healy told the assembly that getting this permit was very important for not only supporting year round economy in Skagway, but also to show Yukoners there are things to do south of Log Cabin.
Because the Brew Co. was hosting live music on both nights, Healy wanted to obtain a permit to be certain he would not get a noise violation in case things got a little too loud.
When the restaurant is at capacity and there is music on the speakers, they are at a maximum decibel level when the doors open, Healy said, adding that live music would only aggravate the situation.
Red Onion owner Jan Wrentmore told the assembly that the noise ordinance, which passed last year, went though a long public process and Skagway residents, bar owners and the police department participated to make it fair for everyone.
In the ordinance, there is a provision which states that a short-term permit of this nature would be awarded unless there is substantial potential for impact on the public.
“I don’t see an adverse impact here, and I think it’s in the police’s purview to say, ‘well I think we should just do it one night,’ or ‘well why don’t you knock it off at midnight’,” she said.
Wrentmore said it was to her understanding the ordinance worked that way.
If permits are going to be turned down, then she’d prefer the assembly do away with the permits altogether, she said.
Leggett then told the assembly Healy gave him a short paragraph, which didn’t really explain why he wanted a permit, which is why he turned him down. Later, after learning more about the event, he granted Healy the permit for March 16 and 17.
On Saturday the 17th, the police department received phone calls from neighbor Kody Kosters at 11:48 p.m., 12:07 a.m., 12:21 a.m. and 12:29 a.m.
Leggett called Healy and asked him to stop the music and close the bar. Leggett said the bar complied with the request.
Healy said they were taking decibel readings throughout the night to make sure they weren’t being too loud. He took readings in front of the Alaska Shoppe, the Wiley’s house across Broadway, and in the alley near Kosters’s house.
Because the Brew Co. is in the business general zone, they need to be below a decibel level of 70, but the reading near Kosters’ house needed to be below 80 decibels because it is located in the light industrial zone and has a higher maximum level.
Healy said every time he checked, the Brew Co. was within normal ordinance levels.
Healy said there were about 150 people in the brewpub at peak hours, and added that there were people talking on the back deck, which probably contributed to the noise Kosters was calling about.
Recycling Committee organizes
The Skagway Recycling Committee met for the first time on March 16 to start brainstorming ideas on how to increase recycling in the Skagway Borough.
The committee selected Steve Burnham Jr. as its chair and Rick Bannerman as its secretary.
Each member of the committee brings something unique to the group whether it be the willingness to help or having ideas from recycling in larger cities.
The committee loosely discussed ideas on how to promote and increase recycling in town.
More items recycled would cut back on the amount of garbage in Skagway therefore easing the incinerator usage and reduce fuel expenses and repair costs.
The committee will be touring the incinerator with Skagway Public Works Director Grant Lawson today at 2:30 p.m. – KE