Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Residents felt the heat in 2019


December 19, 2019

Cindy Schultz

July 18. Cooper Gregg, 10, left, Tresham Gregg's grand-daughter, removes weeds while Carol Tuynman of the Alaska Arts Confluence gets ready to dig in during a volunteer cleanup effort at the Sculpture garden.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy's deep budget cut proposals and the ensuing battle for ferries, education, community assistance, public radio and a slew of other services dominated headlines this year.

The town celebrated the Haines Glacier Bears cross country team after it won the state championship in October.

The debate over borough-wide policing persisted another year. The year started with the borough attorney writing the Alaska State Troopers that the assembly declined to continually violate its own charter by regularly providing law enforcement services outside the townsite. It ended with an assembly member's resignation after the assembly voted 4-2 to reinterpret charter by including police response in the definition of emergency services.

Sales taxes continued to rise as online retailers such as Amazon began remitting sales tax to the borough early in the year.

Constantine Metal Resources advanced exploration at the Palmer Project by applying for a state permit that would allow them to dig a tunnel and operate year round. After local conservation groups and concerned residents cried foul on the permit that was approved by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the state remanded Constantine's permit. DEC is awaiting the results of a tracer dye study to determine if the project's wastewater path will require a more stringent permit.

Three new borough assembly members were seated in October, and a fourth seat became vacant after Sean Maidy's resignation over the policing issue. The assembly this year also approved a plastic bag ban ordinance, and let die an ordinance that would ban the aqueous storage of hazardous materials,

Extreme weather highlighted the effects of climate change in Alaska.

King salmon returns eked past the lower escapement goal for the Chilkat River after failing to meet the goal for six years.

In the news of the weird, a lost duck was found wandering Main Street before being adopted, a beaver wreaked havoc in Tlingit Park, a scammer posing as Mayor Jan Hill tried to rip off borough residents, and Sheldon Museum employees uncovered a WWII mortar that resulted in a visit from U.S. Army explosives experts. This is the Chilkat Valley News' Year in Review.

Budget cuts

In February, Dunleavy announced his budget proposal that included $1.6 billion in cuts. The budget, which Sen. Jesse Kiehl described as a "meat ax approach" during a public meeting in Haines, sparked a recall effort against the governor.

Cuts to the ferry service prompted the Inland Boatman's Union to strike, which docked all 10 vessels in the Alaska Marine Highway System fleet. The strike caused Southeast Alaska State Fair attendance to drop, and stranded vendors.

One vendor owner, Chris Peterson of Peterson'sPretzels, took advantage of the opportunity and set up shop on Main Street outside of Miles Furniture. He decided to stay in Haines through the rest of the summer because he was selling out of pretzels almost every day. Peterson recently announced he'd be back this spring.

At the end of the budget battle, the Alaska Marine Highway System lost $44 million in funding. The ferry service announced in November a reduction in service to one ferry a week through March because it couldn't afford to repair several vessels. The news left some residents marooned, especially as foul weather grounded planes. Costs increased for businesses that had to start shipping goods on Alaska Marine Lines. After public outcry, the ferry service announced that it would bring the newest ferry Tazlina back online, bringing the total sailings to three a week.

When the state budget was finally passed by the legislature and vetoed by the governor, Haines lost about $450,000 in school bond debt reimbursement, which the borough assembly voted to cover with savings. While the assembly staved off a tax increase in 2019, that might change for 2020. "Next year we will most likely pay for it with an increase in property tax," borough manager Debra Schnabel said in July.

Borough News

About 50 residents petitioned the assembly for a drug-sniffing police dog in January, and agreed to fund its purchase. The petition asked the assembly to reconsider its decision against seeking funding or researching the efficacy of a police dog. "I think just having the dog, people knowing there is a drug dog, is a big deterrent," police sergeant Josh Dryden said at the time. "It's just another tool we can use to deter and detect, and to enforce the drug laws." After the police department went over budget for the second year in a row, Haines Police chief Heath Scott told the public safety commission in April that the department couldn't afford to take on the responsibility of the police dog.

The landfill again came under scrutiny in March after Burl Sheldon complained to the borough that garbage there was routinely exposed and scattered farther than state law allows. Borough manager Debra Schnabel forwarded the complaint to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC staff notified owner Tom Hall of the complaint. In June, the commerce committee asked the full assembly to reconsider a 2018 proposal to charge an up to 1 percent sales tax increase to fund a public-funded solid waste system. The assembly deferred the ordinance to 2020, punting it back to the commerce committee.

In April, assembly member Will Prisciandaro introduced an ordinance that would prohibit the underwater storage of hazardous material. The draft ordinance drew both strong support and opposition. More than 20 fishermen, conservationists and other residents praised the law for protecting the Chilkat Valley from the potential of mine pollution. "I've lived here my entire life and there's been a lot of changes," fisherman Steve Fossman said. "I think the one thing I would take away is, you gotta keep the watersheds clean both short term and long term."

Critics of the draft ordinance, including Constantine Metal Resources, said it unfairly targeted mining and was beyond the ability and expertise of the assembly to regulate. Assembly member Brenda Josephson said the ordinance would have "debilitating effects on businesses in Haines" and is "outside of our authority to become mini environmental protection agencies." The assembly ultimately postponed the ordinance's consideration to the assembly after October's election.

In May the assembly unanimously approved a single-use plastic bag ban. The decision gave businesses time to prepare by not making the ban go into effect until January 2020. The assembly received little comment in opposition to the ban.

Assembly members Tom Morphet's and Heather Lende's terms expired in October. Will Prisciandaro moved to Vermont and resigned his seat. Gabe Thomas and Paul Rogers were elected to the borough assembly, with a race for the third seat among Zephyr Sincerny, Sally McGuire and Sean Gaffney. The assembly voted to seat Sincerny to the open seat because he received the third highest vote count of all the candidates.

In July the assembly voted 4-2 to advance a charter amendment to put the borough-wide policing initiative on the October ballot. By late August, the assembly scheduled a third public hearing for the ordinance, but the delay disqualified the initiative from inclusion on the ballot. Borough clerk Alekka Fullerton recommended the assembly adopt a resolution that would interpret "emergency dispatch" to include police emergencies, so that police wouldn't be violating borough code when they left the townsite. While borough attorney Brooks Chandler initially said such an action didn't pass the "smell test," he later said it would likely satisfy people as a stopgap until October 2020 when the question could go back on the ballot. Assembly member Maidy resigned after the vote.

General News

The Alaska State Museum returned to Klukwan four Frog House posts and a replica of the clan's house screen. The at.oow was held in trust and had been displayed at the State Museum for more than 30 years before returning to the village in June. They are now stored in the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center. "They are embodiments of our history, of our stories, of our culture," said Lani Hotch, executive director of the Heritage Center. "There's been a gaping hole in Klukwan for all the years those things were absent from here," she said.

The cruise line Holland America removed most of its port calls for the 2020 season. A study estimated the loss would amount to $3.4 million for local businesses and about $187,000 in sales tax revenue.

Sales tax revenues increased by 11 percent from July 1, 2018 to June 30 2019--$400,000 more than the borough predicted.

The swimming pool closed for reconstruction beginning in May. From the onset, delays dogged the renovation, and a spat between Indiana-based contractor Renosys and the borough continued into December. Despite continuing leaks, the pool finally opened its doors on Nov. 29 to the delight of residents. The Haines Dolphins swim team had been unable to practice for much of its season. Asher Jimenez, 8, said it took him a minute to get his swim legs back. "I forgot everything about it," he said. "When I jumped in, I felt like I'm not going to be good at it, but once I kept swimming I sort of got it."

In August, gardeners successfully grew several "porcupine squash" plants in a greenhouse near town. The plants are believed by some to be descended from seeds preserved for centuries in an ancient Fremont jar that was unearthed by Bart Henderson's brother's family in Utah's Uintah Basin.

The Alaska Historical Commission voted to change the name of Seduction Point to Ayiklutu, a Tlingit word defined as a "small point of a larger point." The Chilkoot Indian Association petitioned for the change in September. The tribe said the old name was representative of the area's ugly history after British sailors raped a Kaagwaantan woman there in 1794.

The borough manager created a "bear task force" after increased bear activity in town resulted in property damage and one man being charged at Dusty Trails. Fish and Game biologists and a wildlife trooper came to town to assess the situation. Borough police received more than 80 calls about bears between September and October. Biologist Carl Koch noted issues with dumpsters, and easily accessible garbage at the landfill.

Climate Change

An Anna's hummingbird lingered around Haines through January. Of the 1.2 million sightings logged on, Haines is the northernmost location the bird has ever been observed during the winter months. The Audubon Society released a 2014 climate change report which indicated that the Anna's hummingbird, which is typically found along the Pacific coast, was among more than half of bird species in North America at risk of disappearing by 2080 because of shifting and shrinking ranges.

For the past three winter heliski seasons, drought conditions marred the industry. heliski operators used a fraction of their allotted skier days and had to turn customers away because of poor conditions. Snowfall in Southeast was 50 to 80 percent lower than average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the problem of abnormally-low snowpack has become so pronounced that the National Drought Mitigation Center coined a new term for it-snow drought. "Haines Customs reported that for the last two months of January and February, where they were supposed to get 50-60 inches of snow, they got nine," a NOAA senior hydrologist said.

Haines later experienced one of its warmest, driest springs on record. For the first time in the history of the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal organization that monitors drought throughout the U.S., the agency reported 'extreme drought' in southern Southeast Alaska, the wettest part of the United States. Kate Saunders, who has been gardening in Haines for 32 years with rain catchments, said she wasn't collecting enough water. "I don't remember it being this bad this early in the summer."

In May the pollen clouds that enveloped the Chilkat Valley were exacerbated by climate change, according to recent research published by the American Academy of Allergy and Asthma & Immunology.

Later in the summer, Haines saw record heat and a persistent drought. July was Alaska's hottest month on record, and temperatures in Haines soared to 90 degrees for the first time since 1976. Haines had recorded about 18 inches of rain below average since September 2018. Low water levels at Lily Lake revealed a design flaw in the water pipeline, which left the water department struggling to keep the town's water source flowing. Mandatory water restrictions went into effect until the lake's levels increased.

Alaska is among the fastest warming regions on earth, heating twice as fast as the global average temperature during the past 50 years, according to the National Climate Change Assessment. In September, Haines students joined 4 million students across the globe to protest inaction against climate change. Seniors Marirose Evenden and Dylan Chapell organized the strike to stand with the global movement. "We're standing up because we see a problem, not because we have the answers," said Evenden.


The number of Chilkat king smolt that left the river drainage in 2014 was the lowest on record, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates this year. Between 1999 and 2013, an average of 185,000 smolt left the Chilkat drainage for the ocean. In 2014, biologists estimated only 64,000 smolt from brood year 2012 survived their rearing habitat before leaving for the ocean. A crack of light shone through when enough Chilkat kings returned to surpass the lower end of the department's escapement goal this summer.

The low returns, which have labeled kings as a stock of concern, have resulted in time and area restrictions for the commercial gillnet fleet. Those restrictions will continue into next summer, sport biologist Rich Chapell said at a recent Fish and Game advisory council meeting.

Record sockeye runs returned to Chilkoot Lake this summer. "None of us can really believe that the Chilkoot sockeye are so strong. The runs should be pretty much over, but for whatever reason, they're still coming," Fish and Game commercial fisheries biologist Nicole Zieser said of the 136,773 fish that had passed the weir by the end of August.


Cindy Schultz photo.

Sept. 26. Students march through town during a Climate Strike on Sept. 25.

More than 20 volunteers help clear brush and improve the Fort Seward Sculpture Garden this summer. Port Chilkoot Company president Lee Heinmiller signed an MOU for the land with the Arts Confluence. The garden features 11 works from local artists. Originally created in 2014, maintenance and improvement fell by the wayside. After improvements were made, summer markets and evening activities occurred in the area during First Friday events.

It was a good year for comedy theatre. Tod Sebens directed the sex farce "Noises Off." The Merry Tricksters performed "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged" and Mark Sebens brought back to the stage the popular melodrama about Porcupine gold mining "Lust for Dust."

The Lynn Canal Community Players also performed "A Christmas Carol" for the Holly Jolly Follies.

The Haines Arts Council broughtpp a variety of musical acts to Haines including RupLoops and Che Apalache. It also screened Oscar nominated short films in January.

The Haines Glacier Bards made it to the final round and took home top spots during a meet in November.


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