Cast your vote on Oct. 6 at City Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
* See here for information on the Tidelands lease between MOS and WP&YR.
The following are answers to questions provided by The Skagway News to Mayoral and Assembly candidates. The questions asked are provided below:
What would make you a good addition to the current assembly, and why is it important to you that you be a part of it?
2. Which capital projects do you think are the most important and why? What do you think is the best option for funding these projects: sales tax increase, bonds, existing sales tax proceeds, a combination?
3. The lease between the Municipality and White Pass has been a point of contention among assembly members and citizens alike. Do you support the proposed lease? Why or why not? How should the borough proceed if the people reject the lease?
4. What are your thoughts on the Gateway Project? What aspects of the project, if any, would you change?
5. What current and future issues or projects can community members expect you to be the most passionate about if you are elected to the assembly?
Mayoral candidates were also asked the following question:
If you were to give a speech and your opening statements were all about Skagway – what it means to you, why you live here, what makes it great and what could make it better – what it means to you, why you live here, what makes it great and what could make it better – what would you say?
OCCUPTION: Retired/ Small Business Co-Owner, Taiya Marine Services
EDUCATION:University of Massachusetts, Amherst (BA-Geology), University of Alaska Southeast (Certificate, Power Technology), and a variety of courses in mineral economics, leadership and legislative affairs.
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 10
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: None
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Motorcycling, reading, boating
1. I believe in good government. Good government is responsive, representative, responsible and transparent. Good government works from the bottom up – not the top down. If there is good government, citizens will want to participate in it, not view it with scorn. If elected mayor, I will restore good government to Skagway.
2. Last year the voters approved a $12 million bond for a public safety building. This needs to continue to move forward, though every effort must be made to limit the cost to the bonded amount.
Aside from this, I would support projects that are of a direct benefit to Skagwegians, such as a senior center, recycling center or swimming pool. There are a variety of projects that have been proposed, all of merit, all in various stages, and all are uncoordinated with respect to one another. This piecemeal approach will result in unnecessary costs. I attribute this scattered approach to a lack of leadership. If elected mayor, I would hit the pause button until the borough leadership, elected and appointed, develop a comprehensive perspective on all of these capital projects, identify those most deserving of development, and identify the means to fund them.
As to the funding of capital projects: I am opposed to an increase in sales or property taxes. The Municipality of Skagway must learn to live within its means.
3. I am opposed to the lease for the following reasons:
– Skagway is paying for half the cost of a floating dock, which is needed to accommodate a larger class of cruise ship, but will receive none of the revenue.
– White Pass will control ALL of the large cruise ship berthing for the next 35 years. This is the economic doorway to our community and, if the lease is approved, we will be giving complete control of it to a private corporation.
– The elected proponents of this thing would have us believe that the area to be leased is only the “shadow” of the existing docks. The plat that accompanies the lease description shows the leased area to be much larger.
– Under Alaska law, White Pass is liable for the costs of cleaning up the lead and mercury pollution in the ore dock basin. Skagway, even though it is the landowner, is not liable. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has identified White Pass as the polluter. Why is Skagway paying most of the cleanup costs, which will be millions of dollars, when it is under no obligation to do so? I don’t know: It’s like taking the blame for an auto accident in which you are blameless.
It is foolish for Skagway to place its economic fate in the arbitrary hands of a single corporation. In its 115 years of existence, Skagway has never had control of its waterfront. This is the time – and the place – for Skagway to reclaim its destiny.
4. Lead and mercury pollution is the engine that is driving the Gateway Project. This problem needs to be separated from the Gateway Project and dealt with on its own terms. When pollution is removed from the equation, what is left is reconstruction of the ore terminal, construction of a floating dock that will accommodate a larger class of cruise ship, and new docks for Petro Marine and Alaska Marine Lines. After the White Pass lease is voted down, a port authority should be organized that would develop and manage the port for the benefit of Skagway. I am in favor of this portion of the project.
5. The affordable housing issue frequently shows up in election rhetoric. We have to move beyond the rhetoric and get to implementation. If young families don’t have decent housing, all else is only window dressing.
6. A long time resident said it best: “We live in a magic valley and six generations of my family have lived here. We are so fortunate – we’re blessed.”
MARK SCHAEFER (Incumbent)
OCCUPTION: Train operations manager for White Pass
EDUCATION: 2 years college
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 37
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: 2007 Municipality of Skagway Assembly, 2013 Mayor
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Family, community service, hobbies like snowmobiling and fishing.
1. I am dedicated to being a public servant. That’s why I support the assembly as a whole and work hard with my fellow members as a body to arrive at balanced and wise decisions on important issues for the citizens of Skagway. This community has been great to me and my family, and being mayor gives me a chance to give something back to Skagway.
2. The projects most important are those that positively improve the quality of life for the people of Skagway. They are numerous: such as the small boat harbor, Gateway, school vocational education building or running track, senior center, water tank, levee completion, new RV park and public safety building and more. They are all important and we hope to accomplish them over time. As for funding projects, the municipality of Skagway is fortunate to have a great revenue stream. We are able to fund projects using existing tax proceeds, and use bonds when the public supports them. Obviously the best option is the one that carries the least impact to the citizens of Skagway.
3. I support the lease, it is a great improvement over the current lease in revenues and protection for the municipality. I think it the least risky option for the community and we should continue with the successful model of this historic public private partnership. Simply put, the community enjoys many benefits with very few risks that come from this agreement. Ultimately the voters will speak on this issue. If the lease is not ratified by the voters the borough assembly will have to reconsider the next steps.
4. The Gateway project is a port improvement, infrastructure investment and construction project designed to clean the environment, keep Skagway competitive with a floating dock for breakaway class vessels and enhance economic opportunity in the cruise and industrial sectors for year round employment diversity. Like other construction projects, stage one will be completed first, which will complete some of the most important items and leave us with an improved port with further improvement possible in the future. If I could change anything, it would be our ability to complete it sooner for the environment, employment opportunities, both short term such as construction, and long term such as visitor and industrial industry’s enhanced capacity.
5. Continuing to improve our infrastructure while advocating for our environment, whether it be clean air, water or land. A community needs to be economically, financially and environmentally healthy for its citizens to enjoy a great quality of life. As mayor I will work with the assembly to always be fair and balanced and open minded when dealing with difficult decisions.
6. As a fellow resident recently said, “Why wouldn’t someone want to live in Skagway?’ That simple question sums up how I feel- this is the best place I could ever live, with the excellent environment, great people and a wonderful sense of community. To improve Skagway, we should strive to sustain a clean environment, work hard to develop economic diversity and do no harm to the strong community we do have. We must continue to support essential services while advocating for improvements, ranging from better ferry service to more available housing. As a community, the citizens and their elected officials need to communicate civilly and respectfully while respecting our differences in pursuit of our goals.
DAVID BRENA (write-in)
OCCUPTION: Real estate
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 63
EDUCATION: BSBA Real Estate & Construction Management, MBA Finance.
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 63
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: Planning and Zoning Commission
INTERESTS, HOBBIES: Fishing, pool and cooking
1. This election may be the most important in recent years. The White Pass lease is looming, and the necessary preliminary work on determining the fair market value of the lease has not been completed. I have extensive lease negotiation and complex financial analysis of real estate that would be directly on point in this negotiation.
2. I support the construction of a pool in Skagway. Funding should be completed with a bond. If a sales tax increase is ever used, I support a sunset clause to return the sales tax to the prior rate at the end of the financing.
3. The necessary financial analysis of the market value of the lease has not been completed. In my opinion, there is no way to know if the municipality is getting a fair deal unless this is done. I also do not like the $2 million cap on the White Pass portion of the clean-up. The people should reject this lease. There is adequate time to do a proper analysis before tying up the waterfront for an additional 35 years. If the lease is rejected, we need a different and more qualified negotiation team as well as some professional valuation services.
4. The municipality should not agree to allow White Pass to cap their clean-up costs. In a broader sense, the citizens need to decide the costs and benefits of industrial development in the middle of a tourism based economy. It seems that trucking in any significant numbers will be big issue for tour operators and the overall quality of the tourism experience.
5. I am most passionate about finding a solution to affordable housing. This is within my area of expertise.
STEVE BURNHAM JR. (Incumbent)
OCCUPTION: Teamster Shop Steward at WP&YR
EDUCATION: Bachelors from Evergreen State
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 36.997
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: Borough Assembly 2012 – present; Planning & Zoning Commission; Historic District Commission; Recycling Committee
INTERESTS, HOBBIES: Music, film, home brew.
1. As an assembly member, I will take the time to research and assess each issue, and attempt to make realistic, thoughtful, and fair decisions based on fact, studies, and community input. I am approachable, and my interests are with the betterment of Skagway, not with the furthering of personal or professional priorities. I am always open to ways to improve.
2. The Public Safety Building is a priority, as our Fire and Police Departments are in bad shape, and this project has been delayed long enough. The $12 million dollar bond payment should come from existing sales tax. A recycling and in-vessel compost facility is also a high priority. We spend exorbitantly on fuel and repairs to incinerate garbage made of commodities that are mined elsewhere, when in fact we could recycle one-third of our waste. Composting will convert another third of Skagway’s food waste into a usable soil component; no need to incinerate or ship it out. A mixture of grants and existing sales tax could fund this.
3. I was asked to join the tidelands lease negotiation team a little over two years ago. The parties, by that point, had been in talks for several years. The assembly met in executive session for months before emerging with unanimously agreed upon minimum terms to use in the renewed negotiations with White Pass. In hindsight, I recognize that the discussion of minimum terms ought to have involved the public, with deliberation in executive session. That said, I have always supported the voters right to make the final decision.
I approve of the lease because it provides the municipality site control, significantly lessens the current lease area (controlled by White Pass), while protecting the municipality against legal responsibility for environmental contamination. It is extremely important that the ore basin is remediated, preferably sooner than later, that strong regulations are enacted to help ensure that contamination doesn’t reoccur on our waterfront, and that the ore dock is rebuilt for the safety of local workers and cruise visitors. The proposed lease allows for remediation, dock replacement, and legal protections (retroactive to 1968) to start immediately.
After voting, citizens will have an opportunity to complete an exit poll, which should help the assembly understand voter intent. If lease provisions require reconsideration, White Pass will need to agree to renegotiate. If the citizens indicate that the municipality itself should operate the tidelands, it will require significant steps and substantial investment to execute. We would first need to purchase the ore and broadway docks, which could cost tens of millions of dollars. Alaska DEC has suggested that the municipality is among those responsible for the ore basin contamination. Since ADEC isn’t requiring any potentially responsible parties to pay for the remediation, the municipality may have to go it alone.
4. The intent of the Gateway Project is to rebuild the ore dock, which will also allow for construction of a floating dock that could maintain or increase the number of cruise visitors. Since increased ore and commerce transport through Skagway is likely, if not inevitable, we should prepare for it. I would like to see strong environmental and safety regulations, and increased oversight on operators and companies that bring commodities through Skagway. Skagway is also in need of better hours for U.S. Customs, and regulation of truck traffic.
5. Recycling & composting – complete upgrades to State Street infrastructure before ADOT resurfaces it – work with ADOT/AP&T to permit and install LED streetlights on State Street – complete wastewater treatment plant improvements – prepare the municipality for climate related changes – support diversification of the local economy.
OCCUPTION: Foreman, Maintenance of Way for WP&YR
EDUCATION:High School Graduate
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 49, including military service
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: Commissioner, MOS Planning and Zoning
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Reading, fishing, kayaking
1. I would make a good addition to the assembly for the following reasons: I was born and raised in Skagway, and it has always been my home. I feel I have a good connection with the people here and am approachable and available. I would also encourage people to contact me with their concerns about any ideas for Skagway. As an assembly person, it would be my place to support those ideas and start things moving forward.
In the past few years, I have become more interested in the local government and the process of how it works. I would like to be a part of that process and make a difference. I feel it is important for everyone to have a part in local government, whether voting or running for an assembly seat.
My youngest children are growing up in Skagway and my daughter is returning here next summer after graduating from college. It is important to me that Skagway remains a viable and progressive town for them. I hope I can make that happen with the community’s help.
2. I feel the most important capital projects relate to the health and safety of the community. To me, that would be the new municipal building combining both the fire and police departments and expanding the recreation center. Combining the emergency services would facilitate faster and more concise deployment of resources. Additionally, this project would save taxpayer’s money. The recreation center expansion, including an aquatic health center, has the potential for providing jobs and activities year round for all ages with different needs.
To fund these projects, all options should be considered. I also feel the people should be a part of the decision-making process as to how projects are funded. Overall, I think comparisons should be done exploring the different options and the most reasonable option taken.
3. The community will be voting on the new lease. My opinion of the new lease carries as much weight as every voter. At this time, with the information I have pertaining to the proposed lease from the MOS website, I would vote in favor. Referring to the FAQs on the MOS website, I do not see any glaring disadvantages with the lease.
As far as how the borough should proceed if the lease is rejected, I would suggest further negotiating with White Pass and gather more input from the community.
4. I feel improving the docks and infrastructure of Skagway’s port facilities is a good idea. Skagway should always be looking to the future. The proposed improvements to the port will give Skagway an advantage compared to other communities for the movement of people and commodities into and out of the interior.
With only a portion of the Gateway Project designed, I would like to see a more completed vision before suggesting any change.
5. Anyone who has seen me at recent assembly meetings knows that I am very interested in the expansion of the recreation center with the inclusion of an aquatic health center. Another issue would be the availability of land in and around Skagway. At the recent land lottery, there were approximately 30 people competing for six lots. This demonstrates that the community members are interested in investing in their community. Therefore, I would be interested in opening up more municipal lands for residents.
OCCUPTION: RETIRED. I have spent most of my life in transportation, accounting and commercial fishing. I have worked for White Pass in the dock office, stores, the rail division and the pipe line division. In Ketchikan; seven years for Ellis Air Lines in accounting, worked for the National Bank of Alaska, the U.S. Post office, and drove a milk truck delivering milk to households. I have worked with my husband in his business of taking care of fishermen’s paper work concerns—taxes, custom broker, and reporting to Fish & Wildlife each day’s fish landings in Ketchikan. We owned a 40 ft. troller, which we used for trolling and long lining (halibut fishing). I started Taiya Lodge (presently Sgt. Preston’s Lodge) and had retail businesses as well. My husband was an accountant by education and training and a commercial fisherman by heart and heritage. My husband was disabled at 45 and lived 20 more years. We have three sons.
EDUCATION: Skagway Schools 1951 High School Graduate ; 1951-1953 Washington State College, basic curriculum/education, 1968-1970 Western Washington State College, accepted into teacher education program, education/social studies/cultural anthropology (had to drop out due to illness). 1982-83 North Seattle Community College, typing, math, business classes, EMT training. 1983-85 Green River Community College, Associate Degree in Transportation and Warehousing; Summer of 1984, Course at The Port of Seattle in Ocean Transportation and International Trade. (We visited container ships, Coast Guard Cutters, Seattle rail yards, container yards, custom houses–Seattle had no cruise ships at that time.). At Green River I became quite familiar with the rapidly growing Port of Tacoma and the drastic changes that were happening in warehousing. I have never worked with trucking, however the course at Green River dealt a lot with trucking, railroads and ocean transportation.
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: About 60 years. Born in Skagway. I lived in Ketchikan from 1953 to 1969. My grandparents arrived in Skagway in early January 1899 and all six of their children were born in Skagway. I have never been a registered voter outside Alaska.
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: I served on the Skagway Council from 1978-1981. Various committees – Chair, Centennial Committee-7yrs., Chair, Economic Development Committee-3yrs. Presently on Ports & Harbor Committee.
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Government, family, gardening.
1. I believe my education and work experience in different modes of transportation is valuable to a community whose history and existence is that of a transportation corridor. I have also traveled a lot throughout my life and have always tried to study how other people do things. I believe Skagway has many more options for economic development than they are using. It is a family tradition to be involved in our government and our community. My mother, Mavis Soldin, served several terms on the Council and her sister, Edith Lee, served on the Council and the School Board. We were taught in school and at home that it is our responsibility to take part in our government.
2. I support the proposed Public Safety Building and Skagway’s funding should be with bonding.
Funding for many of the capital projects often comes from several different sources and the Public Safety Building is good example. I also support putting in water facilities at the Rec Center, an exercise pool and the pools where you swim against the current, however I question four lanes. I support these because they address health issue more than anything else. That is also true for the Rec Center itself. I believe the Rec Center is one of the best things that has happened in Skagway. (I do think it needs a high fence on the State Street side for safety.) The Municipality has done a pretty good job prioritizing the lists, the problem seems to be in coordinating the lists. While I believe in any other funding you can get, I would usually oppose a sales tax increase.
3. NO! I do not support the lease between the municipality and White Pass. Giving a lease which creates a monopoly should seldom be done! The length of the lease is a big issue and the urgency of the project has also changed. The bigger ships will not be coming as soon as thought and 35 years is too long for a lease. Most of the big mines in the Yukon belong to the Chinese, and their economy is in trouble and probably will not recover before 2023. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the need to clean up the harbor. We have lived with the present lease for 46 years, we can either come back with a different proposal or let the lease run out. In either case, by turning down the lease we have time to plan about doing the right thing for the present residents and those to come. Don’t let fear rule our lives! Getting the uplands has been hailed as a big thing. It isn’t. Uplands are key to a harbor, so I would say, a harbor is key to uplands and White Pass is keeping the harbor and the monopoly.
4. I support the Gateway Project and trust the group working with it.
5. I am interested in expanding our economy which involves land issues, housing and involving the citizens in the process. Skagway is my family’s home, it is beautiful, it is safe. I also appreciate its potential accessibility. It needs more employment opportunities and I believe it has the assets to develop the opportunities.
FOR SCHOOL BOARD
The following are answers to questions provided by The Skagway News to School Board candidates. Incumbent John Hischer is the only candidate running for a spot on the Skagway School Board. The questions asked are provided below:
1. What qualities and experience would you bring to the school board?
2. What do you think of the current curriculum? Is there anything you would like to change? Do you have any other curriculum suggestions to better prepare children to enter college or the workforce?
3. We have had a small spike in enrollment this year. If this trend continues, what programs would you like to see added or enhanced at the school? How does the school plan to accommodate future growth?
4. After this year’s legislative session, how do you plan to better prepare the school for possible budget cuts in the future?
5. Please state your top 3 priorities for the district, or any other issues that need attention.
JOHN HISCHER (Incumbent)
OCCUPTION: Behavioral Health Clinician
EDUCATION:Masters of Social work
YEARS IN SKAGWAY: 6
PUBLIC OFFICES HELD: Skagway School Board
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Reading, running and cooking.
1. I bring three years of experience working on the school board and the knowledge of the topics that impact the district and our students. I also bring my experience as a behavioral health clinician working with children and the understanding of different issues that impact learning and childhood development. A quality that I bring to the school board is that of a good listener. I believe that listening and understanding the needs of students, parents, teachers, staff and community members is one of the most important jobs a school board members has.
2. I believe that the current curriculum is great. The district has put a lot of time and money over the past two years into the adoption and implementation of new Language Arts, Science, and Math curriculum. These curriculum are designed to meet state standards and are vertically aligned so what a student learns in Kindergarten flows into what they learn in first grade and so on. An area for growth in our district is strengthening our vocational education curriculum. We need to ensure that those students who choose not to attend college have a chance to explore and obtain the foundations of a skill that they can take to a trade school or apprenticeship program.
3. Besides enhanced vocational education, I would love to see a K-12 foreign language program. Learning a foreign language is not only a very practical part of living in today’s society, but it has also been shown to have a positive impact on brain development.
As a School Board Member addressing future growth in our district, I would focus on ensuring staffing needs are met to keep up with any student population growth. One of our biggest strengths is the individualized instruction that occurs because we have a low student to teacher ratio.
4. I would continue to maintain and foster our productive relationship with the municipality. The Mayor and Assembly have been great partners in ensuring that we have what we need to educate the children of Skagway. I would also continue communicating with our state legislators to impress upon them the need for stable and sufficient educational funding at the state level. I would also continue to look for where we can save money that does not impact instruction. During my time on the school board we have conducted energy audits to explore how to reduce our increasing energy bills.
5. • Student Safety
• Student College and Career Readiness
• Pre-K Education and Early Childhood Development
Cast your vote on Oct. 6 at City Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.