July 25, 2014 • Vol. XXXVII, No. 13
WP&YR Train Derails, Dips into Lake
Passengers on Wednesday afternoon’s Fraser train gather outside the cars that left the tracks following the derailment at the White Pass summit. All passengers on board were taken down by train, and 19 were taken to the clinic with non-serious injuries.
Photo courtesy of Judy Cable
Car slides into lake after train derails on summit
No serious injuries; several taken to clinic
By KATIE EMMETS, AIMEE O'CONNOR and JEFF BRADY
A northbound White Pass & Yukon Route train derailed at the White Pass summit just before the US-Canada border Wednesday afternoon sending two people into a small lake and 19 people to the clinic with minor injuries.
According to a White Pass press release, the derailment happened northeast of Skagway at Milepost 20 and involved two vintage locomotives and four passenger rail cars.
Early reports indicated the derailment that happened at about 1:35 p.m. caused multiple injuries, which had Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital on standby until 4:30 p.m.
“Any injury connected to our rail operations, whether to our passengers or our employees, is always considered serious,” said White Pass President John Finlayson in a press release. “Although we have not yet identified the specific cause or causes of this incident, a thorough investigation has been undertaken, and all reasonable efforts will be made to ensure that safe operations remain the overriding focus of our workforce and management team.”
According to the release, rail operations have been temporarily suspended to allow an investigation to proceed and expert analysis of the cause to be determined. Operations will resume as soon as the company can assure the safety of its passengers and employees.
“Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority,” Finlayson said Wednesday night.
Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett said no passengers were transported out of Skagway for medical attention. Those injured traveled back to town with other passengers in another train and were taken to Dahl Memorial Clinic.
Clinic Medical Director Carol Borg said medical providers saw 19 patients who had been on the train, all of whom had “very minor injuries.”
At the clinic passengers were reliving the accident, sharing stories and showing photos on iPhones and cameras. There were bruises, banged heads, wet clothes, and broken electronics.
Clinic employees donned purple vests that read “transportation coordinator,” while they checked IDs, passed out crackers and apple juice, and made sure everyone was comfortable while waiting to be examined.
Joe Gilsinger and wife Dana were among the waiting.
The couple from Crown Point, Indiana, was Fraser, ßBC-bound in the third train car to begin their Sockeye Cycle bicycle tour, and Joe was on the car platform taking photos with his iPhone.
Not even a minute and a half after going back into the car and sitting down next to his wife, Joe watched the train car in front of him slowly slide off the tracks.
“It was like that ride at MGM Studios where they show the train wreck,” he said. “Then the car we were in came off the ground, and I was thinking, ‘where the hell are we going’?”
Once the train stopped and the car was grounded, everyone got out as fast as they could.
“A lot of people got out there and risked their lives helping people not knowing if the train car was going to fall into the water,” he said. “It was pretty spectacular.”
Gilsinger, who is a first responder EMT, was one of the people who offered to help.
“I could tell they needed someone to kind of be the leader, and I stepped into that role because I have the training,” he said.
Passengers in the second car were visibly scared and confused and couldn’t figure out a way to safely get over the platform railing. Joe calmly talked to them and told them how to move while holding onto their legs and lowering them to the ground.
Joe said the first car was empty but part of the second car and two of the second car passengers went into the water when first and second cars went off the tracks.
“You just want to stop it from happening,” said Lisa Kratz, whose husband Robert Kratz and son Timmy Kratz were the ones who fell into the lake.
Lisa and her son, Chris, were standing on the platform behind the first car taking pictures when they noticed the car ahead of them turning to the right without the rest of the train. They recalled seeing brake smoke after the train jerked forward, sending Robert and Timmy “flying thirty feet ahead” into the water. Kerosene from the train’s heater leaked into the water, soaking the two men who were already in water over their heads.
“We were petrified of going back down afterward,” said Chris of the travels back to Skagway.
Aside from some bruises and soreness, the family was physically unharmed from the incident.
Chris and his father Robert are both train fanatics from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and believe the derailment may have had something to do with the switch not functioning properly.
While the derailment may have shook up the family emotionally, Lisa is thankful it happened at that exact spot it did, saying it was a good place in comparison to a cliff.
Jerry Cable and his wife Judy of Columbus, Ohio were two cars behind the parlor car that dipped into the lake.
“We heard a bang, then another bang, and then there was some shaking, and then it stopped,” Jerry said.
He had just taken a photo of his wife at 1:32 p.m. with his Nikon camera and the accident occurred shortly thereafter, he said. Judy grabbed the camera and started taking pictures from their car’s platform at 1:37 p.m. while he ran forward to try if he could help.
“The train crew was very calm and helpful, and the passengers really responded appropriately too,” Jerry said.
The crew then got everyone on another train, and according to reports from passengers it took about an hour and a half before the descent back to Skagway began. Jerry Cable said it was a quiet ride.
As for the derailment, John Finlayson said the railroad is still determining the cause and won’t be able to comment until all the facts are reviewed.
ABOVE: The third car to derail jumped to the left of the track. The USA-Canada border marker can be seen in the distance. Photo courtesy Judy Cable
UPDATE: The damaged cars were removed and the track was repaired on July 24-25, allowing for a train of Chilkoot hikers to return to Skagway Friday. Full service resumed Saturday; the railroad on July 30 said an "isolated singular track component failure" caused the accident. See follow-up story in August 15 issue.
Assembly delays herbicide ordinance vote till Aug. 21
By AIMEE O'CONNOR
At the heart of the latest Skagway assembly meeting on July 17 was the lingering feeling that the proposed ordinance prohibiting the use of herbicides and pesticides may be moving too fast.
The assembly agreed to postpone second reading of the ordinance until the meeting on August 21, giving each member more time to look before leaping and be more prepared overall.
In a stack of about 20 letters written to the assembly, one finally got the assembly members to take a step back and rethink a few things about the ordinance.
“Now that White Pass has decided not to spray any time soon, the need for speed in getting a law in place has passed,” Skagway citizen Greg Clem wrote in a letter to the assembly.
Clem questioned a few areas of the ordinance including the use of OMRI as a reference point and the scope of products that the ordinance covers. As it was written, the ordinance would cover not only the sintended plants and weeds, but also algaecides used in hot tubs, moss killers and bottom paint on boats.
Assemblyman Jim Sager was quick to acknowledge that the ordinance was written in a way that might cause confusion as to what is allowed and what is not.
“When you start discussing hot tubs and cruise ship paint, it raises the question, ‘What else in there are we forgetting?’” Sager said.
Amendments to the ordinance such as changing the “application” of herbicides to “spraying,” was intended to rule out other products such as “rolling” of bottom paint on a cruise ship.
Also being questioned was using the OMRI as a reference point for which certified organic chemicals could be used according to its list.
Even as a nonprofit organization, the OMRI lists links to stores on their website and gave several assembly members the indication that the organization has its own agenda.
Clem suggested the ordinance follow the basic guidelines already put in place by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and add the chemicals that they wish to restrict the use of in Skagway.
This would mean that any chemicals not restricted within the Borough of Skagway would be permitted as long as the citizens using them were following the directions for use on the manufacturer’s label.
Currently, the ADEC requires only permits for pesticides applied by aircraft, in water or by a government entity.
The ordinance that seemed to rise up in response to White Pass and Yukon Route’s decision to use herbicide on the railroad tracks has become much more than that, encompassing parks and schools in Skagway as well as local gardens.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham said the ordinance covers every group because, “If we say, ‘White Pass, you can’t spray,’ we are discriminating against one group.”
The irony of it all: White Pass may still be allowed to use herbicides even if the ordinance passes, as the ordinance allows use on state land, which the railroad crosses.
“Without any certainty, I don’t think we can stop White Pass from spraying [herbicides],” said Mayor Mark Schaefer.
At this time, White Pass has been actively looking at other means of vegetation management on the railroad. In attempts to stay on top of the weed problem, White Pass has hired five individuals to brush cut the right of way. The company has been shown several organic herbicides, however all of them have proven to be quite costly.
In the meantime, a review of the ordinance will take place at a joint meeting of the Public Safety and Health, Education & Welfare committees on July 31.
In addition to the further research and thought going towards the ordinance, the assembly gave Borough Manager Scott Hahn permission to go forward with water testing in Skagway. Costing about $6,800, the water testing will provide the assembly and citizens with information as to what is in the water coming out of the three wells. While the testing may reveal signs of other chemicals, Hahn could not find a test for the sulfometuron chemical found in Oust herbicide.
Study confirms Haines-Skagway ferry run has highest per-mile fare in system
By KATIE EMMETS
Among other information about Skagway’s ferry service logistics, the recently released “North Lynn Canal Ferry Service Analysis” highlights the large gap between fares at this end of the Inside Passage and other routes in Southeast Alaska.
Skagway’s ad hoc Marine Highway Committee hired Juneau’s McDowell Group in 2012 to complete the study.
Committee chair Jan Wrentmore said a large and puzzling ticket price disparity between the Upper Lynn Canal sailings and other marine highway routes was the catalyst for ordering the study.
“When the committee was formed, we decided that if we wanted to play a strong advocacy role, we needed to back it up with information,” she said.
Though there is still no concrete reasoning as to why the Skagway to Haines route costs more per-mile than any other route within the Alaska Marine Highway System, the study determined that the cost is about 30% more than any other point-to-point fare.
The Skagway to Haines route is the shortest of all Southeast sailings at 13 nautical miles, however this route costs passengers the most at $2.38 per nautical. The next highest per-mile fare is $1.56 for a trip between Ketchikan and Metlakatla. This trip is the second shortest trip in Southeast at 16 nautical miles.
According to the data collected by the McDowell Group, the largest discrepancy occurs in the cost per mile fare between the Skagway to Haines route and the Juneau to Sitka route.
Travelling from Skagway to Haines is 13 nautical miles at $2.38 per mile, and traveling from Juneau to Sitka is 132 nautical miles at $0.34 cents a mile.
Based on a 2008 report by Northern Economics, Skagway-Haines passenger fares are the highest in the statewide system and vehicle fares are the second highest, coming in below the Southcentral routes.
The study reflects, however, that the Alaska Class day boat ferries, when finished, will reduce the cost of ferry service in the Lynn Canal.
In 2012, all vessels serving the Lynn Canal had a combined average operating cost per mile of $527. Providing 40 percent of all Lynn Canal service, the Malaspina operated at a cost per mile of $649.
The new day boats would cost an average of $173 per mile to operate between Juneau and Haines and $333 per mile to operate between Haines and Skagway.
In this year’s legislative session, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities deputy commissioner Reuben Yost told House Standing Transportation Committee members the two day boats will service the Lynn Canal and replace the Malaspina.
According to the McDowell Group’s study, the design of the day boat might not be adequate for the amount of vehicle traffic.
The study states that one in five trips taken in 2013 headed from Juneau up the canal had a total car deck usage greater than the proposed vehicle capacity for the Alaska Class day boats. It also noted that one in six voyages headed southbound had the same capacity.
The day boats will service the Upper Lynn Canal.
One will make trips between Juneau and Haines, and one will make trips from Haines to Skagway.
If the Juneau Access road is created in the future, however, the road will run north from Juneau on east side of the canal, eliminating the need for a large ferry. The proposed road would stop at a new ferry terminal at the Katzehin River, where travelers would board shuttle ferries to get to Skagway and Haines.
Road construction cannot begin until it is determined to be the best option of transportation for the Upper Lynn Canal, which requires a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
Though it was originally supposed to be released in this spring, a DOT&PF website posting stated the draft SEIS will be released released in late 2014, with a final SEIS and Record of Decision in early 2015.
Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer, with direction from the Skagway Borough Assembly and the Marine Highway Committee, sent the study findings to Skagway’s legislators Senator Dennis Egan and Representative Sam Kito III.
Both Schaefer and Wrentmore said they would like an explanation as to why the Skagway to Haines run is the highest in price.
In a 2012 meeting, former AMHS general manager, Capt. John Falvey, said there is no concrete reasoning as to how the prices are distributed.
“If they are charging us what the market can bear – that’s fine, tell us that,” Wrentmore said. “If we are subsidizing fares to smaller communities and villages – tell us that. Maybe we could work out a special rate in the winter time.”
Wrentmore said Skagway has always been a proactive community when it comes to the AMHS, adding that it’s good to see the traffic trends reflecting that.
DYEA BEAR BUDDIES – The arrival of pink salmon last weekend is bringing out the bears. Two young grizzlies have been spotted evenings on the Dyea flats. Here, one stands watch while his buddy eats. Please refrain from getting close to these bears so all may continue to enjoy them. Katie Emmets
AIDEA board to discuss Gateway Project in Skagway
By KATIE EMMETS
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board will meet with Municipality of Skagway officials for a joint work session on Wednesday, July 30.
At 1 p.m. in assembly chambers, Skagway Borough Assembly and Port Commission members will meet with AIDEA representatives to talk about the Gateway Project and the authority’s role in it.
“They want to come to Skagway and see what they’re investing their money in,” said Port Commission Chair Tim Bourcy. “They want to look at terminal operations, check the condition of the existing ship loader and get a general feel for all the things the Gateway Project needs to incorporate.”
AIDEA will be replacing the ship loader as part of its Gateway Project contribution to allow for an easier and more seamless loading of ore onto the ships.
Bourcy said AIDEA is also interested in the Legacy Contamination remediation in the ore basin, as it is listed as one of the responsible parties along with several other entities including White Pass and Yukon Route railroad and the municipality.
The proposed AIDEA waterfront lease that’s been in the works since 2011 is now in the hands of borough lawyer Bob Blasco, Bourcy said, adding that port commission members haven’t seen the document yet. The lease would allow AIDEA to continue using its ore terminal after the land it sits on goes back to the municipality when the White Pass lease either runs out in 2023 or is extended – thus rendering all developed uplands back to the municipality.
After a couple years of negotiations between AIDEA and the municipality, the AIDEA lease was put on the backburner in 2013 after negotiations picked up on the White Pass tidelands lease.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting will be Yukon Minster of Economic Development Currie Dixon and Deputy Minister of Economic Development Murray Arsenault.
“It will be good to have them here representing the Yukon side of the mining industry,” Bourcy said.
Engine No. 52 is pictured left in the Fourth of July parade, complete with smiling train employees and a recording of a conductor’s “all aboard!” call. KE
Engine 52 gets a new home
After being the highlight of WP&YR’s float in Skagway's Fourth of July parade, Engine No. 52 now has a new home alongside Rotary No. 1 behind the Skagway rail depot.
Residing at the maintenance shops for many years and slowly succumbing to the elements, Engine No. 52 is believed to be the first engine to reach the White Pass Summit in February 1899.
Keeping in mind the engine’s huge historical significance, WP&YR painters Judy Martell and Mike Mileski transformed the engine from rusty to radiant, doing an excellent job restoring her to former glory. On Saturday July 5, maintenance of way employees carefully and expertly maneuvered Engine No. 52 from a flatbed trailer onto a short track near Centennial Park that will be her new home.
WP&YR is very excited that this piece of living history will now be more easily accessible to the traveling public, the railroad said in a press release.
The engine sat for many years across from the depot in front of the old United Transportation Union building. It had been in the railroad yard by the shops for the past decade awaiting restoration.
Above, Engine No. 52 is placed in her new home on July 5. Allison Haas, WP&YR
P&Z to review conditional use permits at next meeting
Skagway’s Planning and Zoning Commission is conducting a review of existing conditional use permits held by Skagway businesses — something that, according to Skagway’s permitting official, hasn’t been done in decades, if ever.
If granted by the commission, a conditional use permit awards businesses and individuals site-specific flexibility of the area’s zoning rules for uses that are desirable to the community. In order for the permit request to be granted, certain conditions must be adhered to.
Though there is a large list of existing permits within the municipality, the commission has decided to review only permits that have conditions yet to be adhered to or projects that haven’t been completed yet.
Once the commission evaluates an existing permit and votes to move forward with the formal review process, the permit will be placed on the following month’s agenda. This will give business owners and individuals the opportunity to listen to opinions and concerns from members, and it will allow them to explain why the conditions haven’t been met.
“We can say something, they can say something, we can decide if we want to be more or less restrictive on their permit,” Van Horn said.
Because there have been no conditional use permit reviews, there have been no ramifications for not adhering to the terms, said commissioner Orion Hanson, adding that there needs to be some kind of penalty for those out of compliance.
The first three permits under review are Dennis and Nancy Corrinton’s industrial zone RV park, Timberwolf Ventures Inc. seasonal housing, and Ross and Tracy Sullivan’s drive-through coffee stand and owner residential dwelling. All three permits were discussed at the July 14 meeting and have been voted on by the commission to appear on its August 11 agenda.
The commission also agreed to look into the Mountain View RV Park permit and the permit for the Gold Rush Lodge at the next meeting. – KE
Assembly considering abandoning easement for White Pass
The assembly is considering the sale of a Spring Street right of way that has been used as a parking lot by White Pass & Yukon Route railway on 2nd Avenue.
Jaime Bricker, director of contracts and land management for White Pass, told assembly members she made the request when she realized the land White Pass has been using for years actually belongs to the municipality.
“All this time it’s been maintained by White Pass as a parking lot,” she said. “We don’t pay property tax on it, and it is, in fact, still held as Spring Street right of- ay.”
Bricker said White Pass is considering building a new train depot and acquiring the easement would be a matter of housekeeping for the planning process.
“The easement doesn’t affect this in any way shape or form because it would still be utilized as a parking lot, but it’s just a matter of housekeeping for me knowing that we’re building up to a parking lot and not an actual street,” she said.
In order for the White Pass to legally acquire the right of way, it would have to be abandoned by the municipality and sold at a fair market price, said Steve Burnham Jr. Burnham added that the right-of-way could also be traded for a piece of White Pass property that isn’t in use.
Assembly members discussed possibly trading the right of way for a piece of property near the northeast end of town for the new redwood water tank, since possible locations were conflicting with the community garden and the proposed public safety building.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran said if the municipality goes through with the abandonment, it could lose access to extending sewer or water through the right of way and onto the property south of it if the now vacant lot were to be developed.
Bricker said she looked at that issue prior to the meeting and doesn’t know how it relates to water and sewer, but there is access to the backside of the property. She also suggested a utility easement could solve the issue and would be willing to work with the Public Works Department to put language for an easement into any potential sales contracts.
Mayor Schaefer said he’s thought about the municipality perusing the property south of the depot for a while and has a call into owners to see what logistics would be necessary.
“The property sits right smack dab in an area that we might have some use for,” he said, noting that it could have some fisheries use as Pullen Park and Pullen Creek are located right next to it. – KE
New fines for alcohol consumption, noise, ATV parking
Those who consume alcoholic beverages on premises not covered by a liquor control license will be subject to civil fines, as voted by the assembly. Previously, the infraction would result in a penalty of less than $300.
Also voted to be penalized with civil fines are violations to the code for obtaining noise permits. A noise permit is required in certain circumstances including construction, explosives and public events.
Further amendments to the municipal code were made regarding terrain vehicles. Formerly, a registered owner of a vehicle which has been issued a parking violation, would have the right to appeal and/or have a hearing if necessary. The right to appeal within 10 days has been removed from the code, along with the requirements for the appeal paperwork and the administrative hearing procedures. Any parking violations will be subject to civil fines, instead of the previous fine of up to $50. – AO