By Melinda Munson

The Oct. 6 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting was unusually full, packed with over 70 attendees eager to listen to two Skagway School groups speak during citizens present.

After meeting with Skagway Traditional Council’s environmental coordinator Reuben Cash, Danielle McManus’ fourth graders and Mary Thole’s fifther graders combined to educate the public about pollutants that harm salmon. 

Adalyn Gunzburg stated that, “According to the San Francisco Estuary Institute, ‘A recent study found a highly toxic chemical, 6PPD quinone, derived from vehicle tires, in the Bay Area stormwater at levels lethal to coho salmon.’ This toxic chemical is killing salmon in Skagway’s streams too.”

Emmett Williams added that “heavy metals from brakes, oil and gasoline are also bad for salmon habitats.” 

“Did you know that when rain lands on imperious places such as roofs, roads, alleys, parking lots and sidewalks, it carries these contaminated particles into our storm drains?” asked Fable Wallace. “These chemicals are deadly to salmon, so we must improve our existing rain gardens and make more rain gardens in Skagway which help filter contaminated water.”

Aleeyah Topasna described a rain garden as “depressions, usually between a gutter and sidewalk, that are dug up and then filled with big rocks, all the way up to small rocks.” Fabric is added to the top, then soil. Grass or a more intricate garden be planted as cover.

Zander Coughran explained that “when contaminated water rushes by, some of it will go into the rain garden(s) to be filtered by infiltrating and percolating through the rocks.”

“We need rain gardens immediately,” said Hudson Guilliams. “Without them, salmon from the Pacific Ocean will become rarer than they used to be, not to mention, salmon are delicious to eat.”

Elias Ryan pointed out that salmon “are important because they are a vital part of Alaskan history and culture because it is a major food source for Alaskans.” Rose Purdue noted that more than 31,000 Alaskans depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Throughout the presentation, enthusiasm was not lacking. Summer Munson said that “fourth and fifth graders are eager and willing to help improve our current rain gardens on 11th and help build new ones.”

After the elementary students concluded, the Spark Sharks, Skagway School’s middle school robotics team, approached the microphones to discuss electric buses.

According to Dane Ames, the theme for this year’s First Lego League is to “identify a way to improve our energy from power generation, transfer or usage.” 

After speaking with Borough Manager Brad Ryan and Municipal Lobbyist John Walsh, Ryder Calver stated the team “identified the need for providing electric charging stations for cruise ships and also to shift the municipal [contracted] buses to electric engines.”

Sam Munson suggested funding the electric bus initiative by charging an additional dollar per person per SMART Bus ride next summer, applying for green energy grants and asking the cruise lines for donations.

The Sharks have a list of follow-up tasks which include researching grants, electric bus prices and the amount of power AP&T produces daily each summer. The team plans to meet with the technicians at Burrow Creek hydroelectric plant, build a relationship with AP&T, interview the contract holder of SMART Bus, contact cruise lines to discover their plans for reducing their carbon footprints and speak to the Juneau Borough to learn how they acquired their electric buses.

Greg Clem, SMART bus contractor, said his 11 SMART buses each drive 100 to 200 miles per day during the season. The buses are privately owned, and Clem says none of them are new – the most recent is a 2014. He priced out a 15-passenger electric bus which costs around $40,000 with a 30-passenger costing $160,000.

The assembly members seemed impressed with the young presenters and both ideas were assigned to committees.

I’m going to conclude with bragging about how great our kids are in this town,” Assemblymember Deb Potter said in closing remarks. “And I will absolutely be bringing up the topic of rain gardens at the next Parks and Rec meeting.

“I think a feasibility study for electrifying buses is a great idea. Perhaps that is Civic Affairs,” Mayor Andrew Cremata said.

Fourth grader Guilliams was also impressed. “I’ll never forget this night,” he told his dad as he left the assembly chambers.