Assembly moves to adjust city code regarding bicycle tours

An ordinance amending definitions in municipal code relating to vehicles and guided tours by vehicles passed first reading by the Borough Assembly on May 4.

The amendments strike bicycles from the list of commercial passenger vehicles, a category including buses, vans, motorcycles and motor scooters.

It also removes kayaks, horses and others from the “tour vehicle” definition. Bicycles remain in this category.

The tour vehicle category received additional attention, with further amendments stipulating that motorized tour vehicle groups shall not exceed eight vehicles, while a guided tour by non-motorized vehicles shall not exceed 12 vehicles, excluding the guide and their vehicle. The changes also add a stipulation that tour vehicles that are not commercial passenger vehicles will require an additional tour vehicle certificate, the fee for which will be set by resolution.

This section of the municipal code had been changed as recently as Oct. 20, 2016, however a recent petition by the Sockeye Cycle Co. over the designation of bicycles as commercial and tour vehicles – and the associated fees and red tape accompanying those designations – caused the assembly to take another look at the wording. Sockeye Cycle owner Thom Ely had said the licensing fee per bike and the eight-vehicle tour size would have an undue impact on his business.

An amended ground transportation fee schedule accompanied the ordinance on May 4, but the assembly held off on a vote over the fees.

The ordinance was approved 5-0 on first reading. A second reading and public hearing will occur at the assembly’s next meeting on May 18, along with a vote over the updated fee schedule.

According to the information in the assembly’s packet, if approved the fee schedule would drop the tour vehicle certificate for bicycles from $50 per vehicle to $1.

Suggestions abound for future of old fire hall

As promised, at its May 4 meeting the Borough Assembly picked up its debate on the disposition of the old fire hall. The discussion looks to be an ongoing one, as the matter was not resolved at the assembly’s meeting.

Local resident and historian Carl Mulvihill again suggested the use of the fire hall as a storage location for vintage vehicles. Mavis Henricksen asked that the building be turned into a temporary vocational education building for the students of the Skagway School District.

“I believe strongly in a good voc. ed. program for the school,” Hendricksen said. Mayor Mark Schaefer said there are a number of suggested uses floating around for the old fire hall, and that there may be some competition regarding the final use of the building.

“But I think we still get back to our fiscal issues,” Schaefer said. The mayor had previously told the assembly members they would need to start figuring out what projects needed priority.

Assembly Member Orion Hanson said he would like to see what the upkeep costs of the old fire hall have been, so if the municipality were to use the building for something the assembly would know what it was in for financially.

“If it’s a museum, what kind of revenue are we looking at?” Hanson said. “If it’s a vocational education building, what kind of potential is there for that?”

Hanson said all the options need to be vetted and looked over.

During the discussion, Assembly Member Spencer Morgan put in that when the Public Safety Facility was proposed, adding the old fire hall back into the tax roll was part of the original discussions.

“I like Carl’s idea,” Assembly Member Jay Burnham said, referring to Mulvihill’s request to turn the fire hall into a vehicle museum. “I think we would be putting another job or two in the community.”

No resolution was reached on May 4 regarding the disposition of the old fire hall; the assembly indicated the conversation will continue at the next meeting on May 18.

Ivory artists ask for support from municipality

The Skagway Borough Assembly has approved sending a letter addressed to Senator Donny Olson at the Alaska State Legislature, which broadcasts the municipality’s support for Senate Joint Resolution 4.

At its previous meeting, the assembly approved the drafting of the letter, but requested it return for review before being sent. SJR 4 requests the Alaska Congressional delegation introduce bills to the United States Congress that would provide an exemption for legally-acquired walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory from current and future laws banning the sale, use and possession of ivory.

“There are at least 40 people in this town, carvers and retail to support them, who will be substantially impacted by any changes in this market,” local ivory carver Bruce Schindler said at the May 4 meeting. “We already have been.”

Schindler had previously written a letter to the assembly, and on May 4 fellow ivory carvers and business owners came out to support his position.

Chris Wassman emphasized what he sees as the desire for locally-made artwork on the part of tourists.

“The response that we get from these people…they’re looking for something local,” Wassman said. “And right now probably 90 percent of my gallery is all made-in-Skagway artwork.”

Some states are attempting to pass restrictions on the ivory trade, restrictions that include fossil ivory, to make it harder to smuggle all kinds of ivory into the country.

Schindler, Wassman and the others speaking in support of the assembly’s letter made the case that including fossil ivories in these bans does nothing to protect the rhinos and elephants poachers harvest modern ivory from.

“Fossilized ivory is a beautiful thing,” Wassman said. “It’s been buried for hundreds to thousands of years, no animals are being harmed.”

When Schindler had proposed the idea for the letter at a previous meeting, Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. had voiced objection to taking such action, saying that he wasn’t sure if the matter was the assembly’s business. On May 4, Burnham acknowledged the calls of the artists, and said he hopes Alaska finds a sustainable solution for them long term.

“I’m just not sure that it’s this body that should be saying one way or another,” Burnham said.

The assembly approved sending the letter 4-1, with Burnham against.