May 10, 2013 • Vol. XXXVI, No. 8
Golden Ferry Love Affair
Members of the Skagway community greet the MV Malaspina at the ferry terminal on May 5 in honor of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s 50th anniversary.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Summit mayors unite, agree to disagree on road issue
Juneau Access battle lines established in cordial setting
By MARGARET FRIEDENAUER
Elected officials from Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Whitehorse met April 26 for what was called a Northern Lynn Canal Neighbors Summit to discuss issues of regional interest for the communities.
The end result of the three-hour discussion in Skagway was an alignment on many issues like energy and ferry concerns. But when it came to the Juneau Access project, the party’s difference of opinion was apparent.
The meeting kicked off with Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford and Skagway Mayor Stan Selmer discussing energy issues, including the prospective hydropower projects each community is working toward, and the hope that those projects could help provide shore power for cruise ship hook ups.
But Sanford said it’s hard to build a project until the need is certain.
“You can’t pay and build something that’s so big that you’re expecting to grow into in the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years anymore. You almost have to have enough sales upfront to be able to afford it and keep the price of that hydro down,” Sanford said.
Haines Mayor Stephanie Scott added she thought with hydro and other energy projects, the stakeholders need to be identified to find funding sources rather than relying on just the state or federal government.
“I’m looking for business plans with these projects that name the stakeholders,” Scott said. “If the state is a stakeholder, let them come to the table with some funds. And if they’re not, let them say so.”
Rep. Cathy Munoz, left, meets with the mayors, Stephanie Scott of Haines, Merrill Sanford of Juneau, and Stan Selmer of Skagway, at a reception at the Chilkoot Trail Outpost following the summit meeting. Photo courtesy of Kathy Hosford
Selmer and Whitehorse Deputy Mayor Kirk Cameron also briefly explained that Skagway and Whitehorse are discussing options for an electrical intertie from Whitehorse to Juneau. The Yukon Energy Corporation is planning to be in Skagway this week for more discussions about that.
Talk of the Alaska Marine Highway came next with Skagway and Haines leading the discussion.
Both communities were active this winter in protesting Alaska Governor Sean Parnell’s move to scrap the Alaska Class Ferry project.
The administration’s plan to create two smaller shuttle type ferries for the Upper Lynn Canal drew criticism from small communities in the region.
Juneau residents and officials were less cohesive in their protest of the plan, although Sanford said he didn’t agree with the idea of open stern decks for the shuttle ferries. But he does believe ferry costs need to come under control.
“When you look at the efficiencies of our ferry systems, when supplying our needs, either cargo or passenger throughout our communities whether they be big or small, in my mind the ferry system has gotten out of hand with those costs,” Sanford said.
Talks of ferries segue into discussion about the Juneau Access Road project.
Mayor Scott of Haines was vocal about her opinion of the road – it may end up being built, eventually, but right now, communities like Haines and Skagway still rely on the ferries.
“The idea of a road link is still out there and that may happen too but what we’re going to have today, tomorrow and in the next 10 years are the ferries so we need to make sure that system is intact, efficient and viable,” Scott said.
Sanford point blank said nothing was going to change his mind that a road or combination of road and ferry systems was the only option left for opening up more economic possibilities for the region.
“We all believe and we all know where we stand, I think we’ve all listened to all the different debates for all of our lives, everyone that’s here, and I think we’ve basically made up our minds already,” he said. “I respect Mike’s position and Stephanie’s position, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to change my beliefs.”
Still, they attempted to find common ground.
Scott asked if maybe all the communities could get behind a road from Juneau to Kensington Mine at least. Some Haines Borough Assembly members said they would be more inclined to support a west side road project, rather than one on the East Side of Lynn Canal. Selmer suggested Juneau keep exploring the road option from Taku Inlet to British Columbia.
The three-hour meeting addressed only half the items on the agenda. As host mayor, Selmer closed the meeting on a light note, pointing out a box of wooden toothpicks his staff bought him.
“They bought me these toothpicks because I always said I would rather put these under my finger nails rather than bite my tongue. But I didn’t have to do that today,” Selmer said. “And I was really apprehensive about this meeting at times and it was weighing on me. But I think we’ve demonstrated Skagway, Haines, Juneau and Whitehorse are at least commonly geographically located and there’s nothing we can do about that.”
The meeting in Skagway was supposed to include officials from Whitehorse, Yukon and the Yukon Energy Authority, but they were unable to attend because of weather and road closures. Whitehorse Deputy Mayor Kirk Cameron joined by phone, as did Representative Beth Kerttula and Senator Dennis Egan. Rep. Cathy Munoz attended in person.
The mayors tentatively planned another summit for November in Haines.
Special thanks to KHNS News for use of this story. Reporter Katie Emmets was stuck in Whitehorse during this event, and editor Jeff Brady was with the robotics team in St. Louis. Our apologies for not getting any Clean Sweep shots.
Unusual ‘spring’ weather causes problems all over Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
For the last two months, Skagway has experienced weather patterns that have resulted in snow slides that halted hydropower production, caused highway travelers to get stuck in Canada for days, delayed a WP&YR train for hours, and residents to question if a real spring will ever come.
On May 4, an avalanche at Kasidaya Creek caused the Alaska Power and Telephone hydroelectric project to stop producing electricity.
“Sometime last weekend there was an avalanche that created an ice dam in the valley quite a ways above the diversion,” said Skagway AP&T Manager Darren Belisle.
At 9:30 p.m. on the May 4, the ice dam broke and sent a four-foot wall of water down the canyon onto AP&T’s hydroelectric operating equipment at the small dam about three miles south of Skagway.
“It displaced a lot of things and sent a lot of sticks, ice and rocks down the pipe,” he said. “It plugged up the pipe, and that shut down the water flow through the needle to the power plant.”
Belisle said a crew was at Kasidaya on Tuesday working to get the hydro generating equipment running again. By that evening, they had the penstock cleared of debris and the system up and running.
The workers straightened the debris catching screen located at the opening of the pipe because it was bent and damaged in the avalanche. They also opened up the pipe and ran water through it in an attempt to clear the sticks and rocks out.
“They did good work,” Belisle said. “As of 5:30 (Tuesday) we were off diesel.”
Skagway’s hydroelectricity production wasn’t the only thing that was halted by avalanches.
On April 25 the Klondike Highway was closed after about ten avalanches obstructed the road on the Alaska side, said Skagway Department of Transportation Equipment Operator Josh Sims.
By the end of the day, workers from Skagway cleared the road. The next day, however, a large avalanche occurred on the Canadian side near Tutshi Lake, which kept the road closed till the morning of the 27th.
Sims said the road closed again on the 28th because of a slide on the Canadian side of the road.
An avalanche in Box Canyon on May 4 caused the White Pass and Yukon Route passenger train to be stuck for five hours on the second cruise ship day of the year.
Bob Tschantz, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Juneau, said unusually prolonged winter weather conditions have contributed to the number of avalanches occurring in Southeast Alaska.
“The mountains got quite a bit more snow than normal, and the fact that it snowed in April didn’t help matters,” he said.
The high amount of snow pack that accumulated in the mountains increased the avalanche danger, he said.
“As far as prolonged cold, it hasn’t happened in this fashion since before I moved here in 1994,” he said. “We haven’t had extended snowfall with good accumulating snow in late April in a really long time.”
Tschantz said northern areas of the Lower 48 have been experiencing unusually cold temperatures with a lot of late season winter storms as well.
“January and February were pretty mild, and March and April were cooler than average,” he said of Southeast Alaska.
It even snowed on Clean Sweep.
For the last two months Skagway has seen a northwesterly flow of air, which kept it on the cooler side, Tschantz said, but it looks like that pattern is finally coming to an end.
“The big rain event we had last week may be a sign of warmer patterns starting to develop,” he said.
Tschantz said Skagway will see no more 30-degree temperatures at night, and added that it will be in the 40s, if not into the low 50s, in the next couple weeks.
Already this week, temperatures were pushing 60 during the day. And the 19-20 swans, who had been holding fast in Dyea for several weeks, had moved on this week. A sure sign summer is near.
AIDEA unveils more detailed plans for future ore hauls
By KATIE EMMETS
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Deputy Director Jim Hemsath recently gave municipal officials an update of an ongoing study on ore terminal development and how to accommodate potential customers.
The mining companies AIDEA has been in contact with are Capstone Mining Corp., Eagle Industrial Metals, Western Copper and Gold Corp., Prophecy Platinum Corp., Chieftain Metals Inc. and Selwyn Chihong Mining Ltd.
At the May 2 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, Hemsath told the members that the maximum amount of ore AIDEA envisions Skagway exporting per year is 890,000 tons. While that 890,000-ton number includes Selwyn’s ore production, Hemsath said it’s probably realistic to assume that Selwyn will choose Stewart, British Columbia as its port.
“On a reasonable approach, we believe we’re in the 600,000 to 700,000 tons per year of ore at peak,” he said.
With a 700,000-ton maximum, Hemsath said, Skagway would be looking at 300 trucking days per year within a 10-month period and added there would be no more than three trucks per hour on a 24/7 basis.
“That isn’t really an overwhelming traffic rate,” he said. “The truck traffic itself within the 10-month period would be modest in and out of the community — constant but modest.”
There will be between 60 trucks going in and out of Skagway each day, which will require about 60 drivers.
“I’ve asked the question, ‘can we make at least some portion of the drivers Skagway residents?’” he said. “Mining companies have no problem; Lynden has no problem with that.”
There will be an increase in jobs at the terminal itself, Hemsath said, but there is an opportunity for the creation of about 30 driving jobs for Skagway residents.
AIDEA has also been looking at ways to improve the ore terminal in order to accommodate the higher ore load, once the new mines are ready to move their product.
Hemsath said the existing ore terminal storage facilities could accommodate up to 1 million tons of ore at a time, so with a 700,000-ton peak, nothing major needs to be done construction-wise.
“The facility itself, as it’s currently designed, we believe can handle any kind of mining traffic that we see in the foreseeable future from the Yukon,” he said, adding that the facility could be expanded to a 1,000-foot length in the future, but it would still maintain the same profile.
The only change to the facility AIDEA is considering is operational, and it would be adding 15- to 20-foot push walls, which would allow the ore to be stacked up about 10 feet high against the walls.
“In doing that, it gives enough initial capacity that we don’t have to do anything else,” he said. “We don’t need to raise the roof, we don