Dicey rocks on Lower Lake trail blasted

Part of the reworked trail leading to Lower Dewey Lake. PHOTO BY JEFF BRADY

Holes were drilled into the Dewey Lake Trailheads on Saturday, May 5, in preparation for a rock blast just above the first lookout on the trail. The blasting crew met on Sunday, at 7:30 a.m. and finished around 8:15 a.m. The actual blasting took approximately 30 minutes and the rest of the time was allotted for cleanup and safety protocol. The crew evacuated the trail by 9 a.m.

Members of the rock blasting crew consisted of two Hamilton Construction blasters and four public workers for trail closure.

According to Borough Manager Scott Hahn, this is a rare occurrence, and he said this is the first time for such action in his four years as manager in Skagway.

“I’ve been the manager many years and I’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had to blast it,” Hahn said. “There are many times more frequently we will have rocks roll down the road. I mean go out to Dyea road, the big landslide area there, and there’s ominous rocks up there but there is no way to know if they are going to come down and take the whole hillside down.

“They built a little structure to hopefully divert or catch some of the rocks that come down so they won’t hit any cars that go by.”

Due to a combination of a larger-than-expected blast zone and a more fractionated rock sample, some small rocks were thrown down to the Pullen Creek Campground. Fortunately Hahn says no one was on the campsite except for the camp manager.

The estimated cost of this procedure is $3,000. To Hahn’s knowledge, there are no other rocks posing a significant hazard nor are there other trail projects that will close down trails at this time.

“You know the world is full of unsafe rocks and you can’t cover everything, so you find some examples that are most glaring and you evaluate for yourself,” Hahn said. “We don’t have any science involved with it, it’s just a matter of evaluating as anyone would.”

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White Pass responds to Skagway’s proposal

A month after Skagway Borough Attorney Bob Blasco sent the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad a proposal addressing development needs in the port, the railroad issued a response to the municipality.

The Borough Assembly discussed White Pass’ May 11 reply behind closed doors in executive session on May 17, before releasing the letter publicly.

Blasco’s letter, which the assembly had directed him to draft and send in April, proposed the railroad grant the municipality access to the Ore Dock for the purposes of constructing a floating add-on to the existing infrastructure, which would be owned and wholly funded by Skagway. The proposal would split the revenue generated by the floating dock – not including Commercial Passenger Vessel Excise Tax Funds – equally between the two parties until March 18, 2023. It also calls for White Pass to begin dredging and cleanup of the Ore Terminal Basin within 30 days of the 2018 cruise season’s end.

In his response, White Pass President John Finlayson said that while the railroad is disappointed with the assembly’s decision to end exclusive lease negotiations with White Pass, it would “be remiss to not engage in a discussion with the Municipality concerning your future plans and how we collectively will deal with the complex issues that now face the community as a result.”

In his letter Finlayson’s wrote there was a “mutual understanding” that White Pass owns all the existing and future dock assets under the terms of the 1968 lease, and indicated the railroad would want to be compensated for those assets.

After coming out of its closed executive session on May 17, the assembly voted to have Mayor Monica Carlson draft a response, which was made public on May 23.

“Your letter of May 11, 2018 had glaring inaccuracy,” Carlson wrote to Finlayson. “There is no ‘mutual understanding’ that White Pass ‘shall be compensated’ for the existing ‘dock assets’ or any ‘future dock assets’ White Pass may construct. There has never been any such ‘mutual understanding’ that the Municipality would compensate White Pass for its ‘existing and future dock assets.’”

Carson’s letter said that in light of the “rejection of White Pass” of Blasco’s April proposal, the assembly will “review its options to address the future use, operation and regulation of the Port of Skagway.

Klondike Highway improvements incoming

The government of the Yukon, Canada, is making road improvements on the South Klondike Highway near the Canada Customs Office between May 22-June 22. Drivers headed to Whitehorse should check 511yukon.ca before heading out and expect delays of up to 20 minutes, according to a press release from the Yukon Government.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work to make improvements to this stretch of highway,” the release states.

Garbage-by-the-pound program

A pilot program is coming down the chute relating to garbage pickup and disposal in the municipality.

The Solid Waste Advisory Committee has turned over a draft of a garbage-by-the-pound pilot program to the Public Works Committee for further review.

The gist of the program is that the municipality will use its new garbage truck, which has the ability to weigh the refuse it picks up, to charge residents and businesses by the weight of their garbage.

The idea behind the program isn’t to increase rates, Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. said, but rather to mirror what is currently in place while diverting the waste in ways that can be dealt with locally.

If the process goes smoothly and all the pieces can be put into place, Burnham said the duration of the pilot program would be about 15 months long.

“One thing they [Solid Waste] have talked about heavily is that we don’t want to charge by the pound unless we can provide more diversion options,” Burnham said. “The food is the heaviest waste in your household garbage, and it’s obviously the heaviest waste from the business sector as well.”

One of these diversion options is for the municipality to acquire a composter and composting facility, which would accept compostable things like food waste. While costs for the garbage-by-the-pound project have not yet been established – that is part of the pilot program – Burnham said composting costs would be cheaper than traditional garbage pickup.

A waste audit from 2012 indicated that one-third of the garbage in town is food waste, Burnham said.

“And so if we can provide an affordable diversion option, we can cut down on the number of incinerator burns, and thus fuel and maintenance on the incinerator,” Burnham said. “Hopefully that will extend the life of the incinerator, and maybe save us money on rebuilds and hopefully it will also increase the life of the ashfill next to the incinerator.”

The project – which is still in draft form and is subject to further review – breaks down into several phases. The first, an introductory phase, will see radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagged containers distributed to commercial and residential locations.

These will let the garbage trucks log waste weight by pickup location. Training for employees and public education are also included in this phase.

Phase one of the program would put the new garbage truck to use, and include a mock bill with quarterly garbage billing. The mock bill will just indicate the weight of each customer’s trash.

“Phase one is mostly going to be the data gathering, getting information so we can accurately choose a cost per pound,” Burnham said.

Phase two will change the mock bill to include both the weight of the trash, and show what that would cost under the new program.

Phase three involves introducing a new composting unit to remove compostables from the waste stream and providing residents with five-gallon buckets to self-haul compostables. The mock billing will continue in phase three, and – if garbage-by-the-pound is adopted and the composter budgeted for – Solid Waste will work on a Compost Program Pilot during the first half of Fiscal Year 2019.

Finally, phase four would roll out the actual garbage-by-the-pound program.

-DF