Dahl Memorial Clinic solution

A question of language that potentially threatened the federal grant funding of the Dahl Memorial Clinic is closer to being resolved.

The clinic is heavily funded by a Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) grant, which the clinic has used for operational expenses since 2006. According to Clinic Board President Cory Thole, the grant requires the board to have the final say regarding its own budget, administrative personnel and hours of operation.

At the March 2 Borough Assembly meeting, assembly members gave first reading to an ordinance which alters municipal code to clarify the borough’s relationship and governance of the clinic and clarify provisions related to federal grant guidelines.

Thole said he believes the changes to the ordinance will satisfy HRSA requirements. In January, the municipality requested that HRSA send suggested language for the borough to adopt, to be in compliance.

The assembly will meet again on March 13 at 7 p.m. for a special meeting to review the ordinance for a second reading. Following that, on March 14 the Clinic Board will meet to review any amendments made to the legislation.

March 15 is the deadline to apply for the HRSA grant. If the municipality misses that window, it is given a 60-day leniency period in which to submit.

“The grant is vitally important to the operations of the clinic,” Thole said. “I would appreciate it if folks wanted to, on that special meeting, just to be present and just tell the assembly how important it is to maintain the clinic at its current level of funding…”

Nahku Bay renaming questioned by Traditional Council

The Skagway Traditional Council has sent a letter to the Borough Assembly regarding the proposed Matthews Creek Conservation Area Management Plan in part to ask assembly members to reconsider the renaming of the property.

“Although we appreciate the thoughtfulness of the committee to rename the property after the previous owner Bud Mathews (sic), we would like the assembly to reconsider and keep the traditional name Nahku Bay or Nahku Bay Conservation area,” the letter states.

The letter continues to say that many areas in the region were renamed by western settlers, and that the native Tlingit culture and language are suffering. Naming the bay in its traditional Tlingit name would not only help preserve the language, but would show respect to the Tlingit people who “occupied these lands and now shares with us today.”

The traditional council also stated that the management plan currently allows research and sampling related to traditional or biological resources under the non-commercial umbrella, and the council asked the assembly to consider allowing such activities under a commercial heading in the plan, to allow the council to continue those activities in the area.

At press time, the Planning and Zoning Commission was poised to discuss the conservation plan on March 9, following a successful first reading by the assembly in late February.

School seeks aid with opioid education

On the heels of Gov. Bill Walker’s declaration of an opioid epidemic in Alaska, the Skagway School District has begun a conversation with the Police Department for help educating students on the dangers and consequences of opioid abuse.

“We want to make sure that students understand the dangers of opioid abuse, and prepare them to make healthy choices as they move out into the world after school,” Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran said after the Feb. 21 School Board meeting.

In February, Walker signed a disaster declaration in relation to the worsening opioid epidemic in Alaska, according to a press release. The declaration allows a statewide program, operated under the direction of Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, to facilitate the distribution of the drug naloxone, which is used to revive overdose victims.

On Feb. 16, Walker also signed Administrative Order 283, which sets up an incident command system and directs all state departments to apply for federal grants in order to respond to the opioid epidemic.

According to the release, Alaska’s rates of opioid abuse including heroin have increased dramatically in recent years. Heroin-related deaths have quadrupled between 2009-2015, and the problem has been exacerbated by the introduction of new synthetic drugs and the availability of opioids in every region of the state.

“It’s devastating for families, the workforce, everything,” said Borough Assembly Member Tim Cochran, who was in attendance at the Skagway board meeting. “It costs everybody.”
Cochran said he had lived in Arizona for 18 years, and witnessed firsthand as crystal methamphetamine came through the region.
“It just spread like a cancer,” Cochran said. “A lot of the elderly retired folk won’t even go out at night, they are afraid to. And you have to lock everything down, everything is being stolen.”

Rep. Sam Kito III said the opioid issue is one affecting many states.
“I do think there are connections to a flattening economy and also to additional pressure being put on the medical profession to not prescribe opiate medications, that could be driving people to heroin,” Kito said. “For me, that’s a really huge problem.”
The governor’s administrative order declares the abuse of opioids as a major public health issue and includes a directive for the Department of Public Safety to identify the ways illegal drugs are brought in Alaska, as well as to pursue improved screening and enforcement measures to stop the trafficking of illegal drugs.

Senior center design proposal approved

After a brief discussion at its March 2 meeting, the Borough Assembly has chosen MRV Architects to perform design services on the Skagway Community Activity Center and Senior Housing Complex.

Proposals for the project were due back in January. Following that due day, a scoring committee made up of Assembly Member Jay Burnham and Senior Ad-Hoc Committee members Michael Baish and Carl Mulvihill reviewed the different proposals.

The highest average score went to MRV.

According to its proposal, MRV is currently designing two new commercial projects in Skagway. In the past, MRV worked on designs for the Skagway Public Library, White Pass Railway Terminal and the Brena Building.

Barb Brodersen of the Senior Ad-Hoc Committee touched on the subject during citizen comments, and expressed the committee’s enthusiasm for the project.

“As you can tell, we have 80 percent of our committee here at your meeting, so we are raring to go,” Brodersen said.

Proposition 1, approved by voters in October 2016, approved seeking $6 million in general obligation bonds for the senior center project, using property taxes and appropriate funds to pay for the project.

Bringing that $6 million price tag down was of some interest to several of the assembly members.

One of the proposals the assembly received, from BDS Architects, estimated construction for the 8-apartment design it had submitted would be roughly $2.5 million dollars.
Burnham recommended that Borough Manager Scott Hahn negotiate with whomever receives the contract and let them know the scope of the project is not “a beautiful Taj Mahal,” but a senior center project.

“I think you’re right on the ball,” Mayor Mark Schaefer told Burnham. “Negotiate, the art of the deal, if you will.”

Assembly Member Tim Cochran agreed that $6 million seems like a lot for such a project, and that the price could probably be driven down.

“When they see Skagway, there’s two lines through the S,” Cochran said. “It’s dollar signs, and I think we get overpriced on just about everything.”

The motion to provide a notice of intent to proceed with MRV passed 4-1, with Assembly Member Orion Hanson against.

MRV, contracted through the Foraker Group, had previously performed a conceptual design for the senior center.

Hanson said that original concept design by MRV was “a little bit extravagant,” and contained items that looked nice, but was “over the top.”

“I have hesitation proceeding with that being their concept of what we’re asking for,” Hanson said. “While the scoring rated them the highest, I did not find them to be really very realistic in terms of their design.”