Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Stan Selmer, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Stan Selmer on October 5, 2018 by Karen Brewster at his home in Skagway, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Stan discusses observations of environmental change, including forest fires and temperature, and possible causes underlying environmental change. He also talks about lead and zinc pollution issues in Skagway and at its ore terminal, the relationship between the City of Skagway and the National Park Service on historic resource protection and the Moore House boundary debate, and changes in Skagway due to tourism. He also mentions his tenure on the City Council and as mayor, and his efforts to require sprinkler systems be installed in historic district buildings.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2018-14-02_PT.2

Project: Observing Change in Alaska's National Parks
Date of Interview: Oct 5, 2018
Narrator(s): Stan Selmer
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Sections

Causes of environmental changes

Effects of rise in tourism in Skagway

Variables effecting environmental change

Observations of environmental change: forest fires

Observations of environmental change: temperature

Government planning for tourism impacts

Lead and zinc pollution in town and at ore terminal

Effect of lead and zinc on the marine environment

Clean-up of lead and zinc

Health effects of handling asbestos

Relationship between the City of Skagway and the National Park Service

Working with the National Park Service to protect historic resources during the Goat Lake Hydroelectric Project

Moore homestead boundary

Controlling tourists on Broadway Street

Land use in Dyea

Relationship between the National Park Service and the community

Historic District Commission

Debate over "Gateway to Skagway" sign, and crows on Broadway

Controlling growth of Skagway

Effect of the national park on Skagway

Relationship between the railroad and the City of Skagway, and lease agreements

Serving on city council and as mayor

Implementing sprinkler system requirement in historic buildings

Contracts and legal issues while on city council

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Transcript

KAREN BREWSTER: One of the things that we had talked about before is, you know, this question of climate change.

You’ve given some examples of how things have changed since you were a kid, but you had mentioned that you weren’t sure about global warming and climate change, and I wanted to hear your perspective on that.

STAN SELMER: Well, it’s no secret that, you know, a few thousand years ago, there was glaciers down where Juneau is, and probably glaciers in this valley down to the -- down to the sea.

Um, and there wasn’t anything that man was doing to cause them to recede back as far as they did.

Um, and I think, global warming being attributable to what man’s doing is a little bit -- I don’t want to say the word premature. I think we need to be focused and cautious and careful that we don’t do things to damage the environment and the climate.

But to say that man and coal mines and all the things that could lead to a climate change are the sole cause of what’s going on, I don’t buy that. I don’t buy that.

Um, I believe that what happens on earth happens in stages. And maybe the Ice Age can return.

And we’re not headed toward the Ice Age right now, I can guarantee that, because the temperatures are warmer.

The loss of glaciers has increased. And as I say that, I can also say that the amount of cruise ship emissions has increased exponentially with all those other decreases.

But I’m not putting the loss of the glaciers on cruise ship smoke. I do put the loss of the trees and perhaps when you see a day here in Skagway that’s completely blue from cruise ship smoke, I’m sure that impacts people as well.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. Yeah. Has anybody addressed that impact on the people and breathing, health effects? STAN SELMER: I think our current mayor is -- is certainly in contact with the Department of Environmental Conservation about her concerns.

And I know that I have not spared contacting her and giving her pictures of what the cruise ships are doing.

And she’s even scooped me on some of it. When I would send her one, she would say, well, I saw this ship and it was emitting this, and you wouldn’t think that a new ship like that should do that.

So I know that she’s -- at least in my mind, she is working hard to try and get the issue resolved. Now, I will go one step further and say, I don’t think that she’s looking at decreasing the number of cruise ships. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: I think she’s looking at ways to make them become more responsible for their emissions. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: Me, I would -- because I grow tired of the number of people that are coming in here every year. This summer was absolutely crazy.

It was its craziest when White Pass had a rockslide come down and take out one of their bridges. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-oh. STAN SELMER: And couldn’t run their trains for a couple, three days.

KAREN BREWSTER: So everybody was isolate -- forced right into town? STAN SELMER: Right here, yeah.

And at least the railroad, I think, from what I’ve heard from the railroad, they’re proactively looking at ways to have the trains that leave here with people on ‘em and come back, not all come back at the same time. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: That they’re setting it up so they can run trains out of town that will go on a loop and come back down, and they can just continually have these trains pass each other on passing tracks and looping. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: And it -- on paper, it looks great. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: And what will it do for downtown?

Well, it should keep the same amount of people downtown, but just at different times. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: I mean, there’s -- KAREN BREWSTER: A staggered impact.

STAN SELMER: Yeah. I walk my dog two miles every day. And I walk her down State Street, and I walk her up Spring Street. Because you can’t walk on Broadway. KAREN BREWSTER: No.

STAN SELMER: And if I did decide to walk on Broadway, the dog is husky enough looking that she gets all kinds of people stopping traffic on the sidewalk, wanting to pet the dog. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: So I’m going to continue to walk the dog, but I’m not going to do it to disrupt what the economy is. I’ll keep her off the main streets.

Like yesterday, I walked her down Broadway, and I walked her back Broadway. KAREN BREWSTER: Because there’s no boats. STAN SELMER: No boats. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: So.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, um, what you’re saying about how, well, you know, the temperature is changing, but you don’t see it connected to human impacts, even human impacts on a global scale, not just here in town?

STAN SELMER: Um, I want to be careful when I say on a global scale, because I don’t have much other than a West Coast knowledge of anything. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: I spent a few months in Vermont, and that’s my only getting to the East Coast.

All I want to say is I believe that there’s many, many factors that go into climate change, of which perhaps emissions, etc. are a part of it.

But to put all the blame on climate change on man and his workings, it’s not the way it is.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what are some of those other variables that you see that might be causes -- some of the causes?

STAN SELMER: Well, that’s a hard one to answer because my experience is more of an opinion-based just because it seems impossible for that much damage to happen to the climate in Skagway, Alaska, from something that happens in Sao Paulo, Brazil. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: And I’m not an expert about what’s happening in Skagway, but I’ve seen -- my family has seen 120 years, I think. 121 years, this year, that there’s been a relative of mine in this town. And my wife’s, too. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: So.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I know she’s related to the Pullen family. STAN SELMER: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that’s why, yeah, talking to you, you don’t have to be a climate expert. You’re an observ -- local observer. STAN SELMER: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: And all those times and seeing how things are different. That’s all we can expect from you. Yeah.

STAN SELMER: Now I will say, and this has been experienced here. When my wife and I were first married, the forest fires in the Yukon were so huge in numbers and in size, that Skagway was impacted by those northerly winds that was bringing all that smoke here.

And I believe it’s been in the last ten years, we had a day in August that the temperature in Skagway reached over ninety degrees. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

STAN SELMER: And it was caused by forest fire heat in the Yukon. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STAN SELMER: So, once again, a forest fire can be a man-made thing. A forest fire can be a God-made thing. Or not having anything to do with man.

This summer, there were tremendous fires between Skagway and Whitehorse. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STAN SELMER: But we had no north wind drift coming this way, so I don’t know that we ever got impacted by it.

But I could drive up to play golf, and I golf frequently and, up by, oh, Windy Arm, which is a finger of Tagish Lake, there were numerous forest fires up and down that -- let’s say ten miles. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

STAN SELMER: And you drive up there now, and you can see all the countryside that was burned. And they just let it burn, because there’s nothing over there to -- there weren’t resources to fight it, I understand. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. STAN SELMER: Although they did do some fighting of it.

And there wasn’t a reason to stop. I mean there wasn’t a commercial lumber forestry project.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, they usually do protection of life and property -- STAN SELMER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- kind of things. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And if there’s nothing, they let it burn. STAN SELMER: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: So have the numbers and sizes of fires up there changed since you were a kid? STAN SELMER: Yeah, I think they’ve changed. I think they’ve gotten less. KAREN BREWSTER: Less fires up there? STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah.

And certainly, I can remember many, many times between -- the fifty years of my marriage, of having smoke in Skagway. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

STAN SELMER: If not where we could smell it, at least where we could see it. It was a dome over us. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: But I don’t think it’s been any more frequent recently.

Because like I say, we had these forest fires in the Yukon this year that lasted for weeks, and we never saw the smoke here.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Those fires may have been the same numbers and intensities, but the wind may have been -- STAN SELMER: Different. KAREN BREWSTER: -- different? STAN SELMER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it sounds like in your fifty years of marriage, there have maybe been fewer fires happening? STAN SELMER: Yeah. Early on -- early on we had more than we had recently.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. But they were always up there, towards the Yukon or -- ? STAN SELMER: Yeah. We had a couple here.

We had one over in Dyea that they brought the water bombers in from the Yukon to fight that one. And we’ve had forest fires down by the Kasidaya project, and I don’t remember when those were. They were maybe even before I was born. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: And then we had some over on the hillside, up north of town. So there’s been fires, forest fires here. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: But just not -- never a major threat to the town or humanity.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, you know, I think we all think of Southeast as so -- STAN SELMER: Wet. KAREN BREWSTER: -- wet, that how could there be forest fires? STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But obviously there have been. STAN SELMER: There have been here, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: Yeah. And you can still -- you get over to a certain part of the west side of Dyea, and you can look over at the one they had there. It was fairly large on a small scale. I mean, large by Skagway’s scale. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um, but you did mention the changing temperature, that it has gotten warmer. STAN SELMER: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that a good thing, not a good thing? How do you feel about that?

STAN SELMER: Well, I thought seriously over the past few years about leaving Skagway, moving somewhere else. I own a home in Palmer. I could -- I could live up there and golf a lot more than I do down here.

Um, and my wife and I have both decided that if we leave, we don’t think we can leave Alaska.

And it’s simply because we like the not extremely hot summers, and we like the not extremely cold winters. I spent a winter in Fairbanks. That’s an extremely cold winter.

I spent part of a winter in Vermont, and that was cold. That was very cold. But it was cold like Skagway was when I was younger. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. STAN SELMER: Probably the same age I was in Vermont was the same type of temperature here. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But I just -- I don’t know, the weather here in the rest of my life, whether I live one minute or twenty years, is never going be bad enough for me to -- and I’m saying that knowing what I know today, not that tomorrow somebody’s going to put a nuclear plant down here.

Skagway’s not gonna change that much more. It’s just physically impossible.

I mean, you can’t -- if the sun’s going to shine, and we get an eighty-degree day, the sun’s not going to shine next year and we get a 120-degree day. It’s just not gonna happen.

And our daylight’s not gonna change, and that’s another big thing. I love -- I love the daylight in the summer time. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: And I hate it -- it’s getting to the point now, I mean, I’m going to have to start walking my dog at 10 o'clock in the morning because that’s the first time it’ll be really daylight. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But that’s -- I know that, and that’s not something that man has tampered with, daylight. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: I suppose arguments could be made in the coal states and the other places that have problems with pollution of some kind blocking out the sun, but Skagway doesn’t have it. Even on a bad cruise ship day, we can still see the sun. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: It’s blue, but we can see it.

KAREN BREWSTER: So your thinking about leaving Skagway is because the winters aren't cold enough anymore, or -- ?

STAN SELMER: No. No. I think I’d leave Skagway because it’s too overrun with tourism. KAREN BREWSTER: In the summer time? STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah.

Uh, and I mean, the solutions that are available to the number of people that they -- I mean they want -- they --

The people that make a living here, the people that govern here, want more and more people to come into Skagway. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And we saw what happened this year, where they drove everybody off of Broadway. No more parking on Broadway.

And it -- it really impacted. I mean, I have no more right to the two spots in front of my house than the guy running a jewelry store downtown. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But there was never any public hearing that I’m aware of, where they discussed, well, what would you think if we had business people park in front of your house?

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Because if they can’t park on Broadway, they are pushed into the side streets. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: To park when they go to work.

STAN SELMER: And this is the first street away from the Historic District. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: So we had to fight. I mean, my wife and I would purposefully park --

You’re going to be able to pick that up? (referring to background noise) KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. No, that’s ok. Um --

STAN SELMER: Where were we? KAREN BREWSTER: Parking, but we can move on from that. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: It doesn’t matter.

What was I going to ask you about? Oh, one thing we sort of didn’t really talk about that I don’t want to spend a lot of time on is that time period with the ore and lead zinc pollution, and the potential to impact people’s health and what that was all about?

STAN SELMER: Well, there isn’t any lead zinc coming into Skagway anymore. KAREN BREWSTER: But there was? STAN SELMER: There was. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STAN SELMER: A long time ago.

Um, and it did get into town, and the railroad paid a company to come in and clean it up. And they cleaned up through town.

I don’t know that they ever cleaned the ore terminal basin, and that’s a contested item now.

I was of the opinion that the silt that would come out of the river and wrap its way around into the ore terminal basin was sufficient to cover up the old lead and zinc.

And now with the bigger, more powerful cruise ships coming in, are the bow thrusters on the cruise ships moving that stuff around in there so that it’s becoming more of an issue again? I don’t know the answer to that, but there has to be something happening in the ore terminal basin that has everybody up in the air about the need for a clean-up.

Once -- once you clean it up, how are you gonna be able to make that statement that it’s clean?

And by me saying that, is it not better to leave it there? I know the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) doesn’t want it migrating out into the ocean, deeper. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: Uh, but we can’t even get Skagway to be better protected from the gray water off the ships, so I don’t know how. I don’t even want to go there. I’ll stop my discussion.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, has there been any outflow from that zinc and lead into the marine environment that has been noticed to have affected the fish or the other marine systems? STAN SELMER: Well --

KAREN BREWSTER: Since that ore terminal is right by the water. STAN SELMER: Yes, it is.

The only thing that I’m aware of that has become known in the last, oh, I’ll say five to ten -- well, five years, is that there is a substance that’s found in crab that is -- early results are tying it to a cause of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

And we had some of the crab tested here and found that product that -- in a crab. And issued a warning that people shouldn’t eat the crab guts.

And I guess that’s about all we did do and all we could do. And there’s never -- I’ve looked as recently as a year ago. I haven’t followed up in behalf of this conversation.

I did look to see if there was any more further, closer ties of this item with Lou Gehrig’s, and, um, I --the last time I looked a year ago, there was -- there was nothing new out there.

But it, um, it’s something that is in the ore terminal basin, but there’s crab everywhere. We just checked the crab that were in the ore terminal basin. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: And I -- I don’t know if we can say that that product is a result of lead and zinc. I don’t -- I don’t think it is. I think it’s just part of crab.

KAREN BREWSTER: But when it was being transported through town on the railroad, was there dust and things that affected people in town? Was there that kind of a pollution problem?

STAN SELMER: Well, the lead that came into town was lead sulfite. It was not lead oxide. And after we cleaned up the town, I don’t remember what year it was. It was in the -- either the late ‘80’s or early ‘90’s.

After we cleaned up the town, the public health people for the State of Alaska told us that we really didn’t make any difference because it wasn’t that much of an impact on -- on human life.

And yet, that’s pretty hard to tell somebody whose yard is full of lead or zinc that should be cleaned up. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: And so the railroad did the right thing, and they cleaned it up.

But I think that if they clean up the ore terminal basin, that they’re going to find far more lead and zinc underneath the ground that they’re cleaning up. And I think they’re going to end up taking far more than they think they need to.

And I don’t -- I know that back in probably the ‘80’s they discovered that there was a layer three feet deep down there. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

STAN SELMER: I don’t know if that’s still the case, or if it’s been moved around or, but I mean, I -- we’re gonna -- somebody’s going to spend money cleaning it up. Whether it’s the city, whether it’s the railroad, whether it’s a combination. Whether it’s federal money, whatever it is.

There’s going to be a clean-up take place. And I don’t want to say it’s not needed, but I also don’t know if it’s really that completely necessary.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. And when they cleaned up -- the railroad cleaned up previously those contaminated parts of town, -- STAN SELMER: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: -- what did they do? Did they dig up all the soil or -- ?

STAN SELMER: They -- it was a company called Verka, and they had supersucker trucks. And they had these huge vacuum cleaners that sucked up the ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

STAN SELMER: And I believe they shipped that stuff out. KAREN BREWSTER: I would hope so.

STAN SELMER: But I don’t know if they -- I mean, it still had value. If they brought lead out of somebody’s yard, that lead had value to be shipped out. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: Um, but I don’t know what to say there.

I mean, I’m more concerned, as a person who’s seen one friend die of mesothelioma, I’m more concerned about the asbestos that’s moved through this port.

And I think the last of the longshoremen that ever handled that product are, I believe, no longer with us. I mean, I think they’ve all aged out and died.

But I’m sure -- I know that when I was nineteen years old, eighteen years old, I was up at Clifton Siding unloading containers of asbestos that were in a train wreck. And, you know, there was no -- there was no concern for our safety.

And I’m not saying I wanted there to be concern about -- we didn’t have any information about it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But now that we have all this information about asbestos and mesothelioma and all things like that, I’m more concerned about that than I am about the lead and zinc in the ore terminal basin.

KAREN BREWSTER: And that asbestos was transported -- ? STAN SELMER: On the railroad. KAREN BREWSTER: It was raw on the railroad? STAN SELMER: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: It wasn’t contained in any way? STAN SELMER: No, it was just in --

Well, the stuff that I moved from a container was in 125-pound bags. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: But there was asbestos that was -- that had escaped from the bags.

I’m sure there’s been other train wrecks up there where -- where asbestos got loose into the environment. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. STAN SELMER: Not just in Skagway, but along the railroad. KAREN BREWSTER: The whole valley? Yeah. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t think that there’s been any -- I don’t think there’s been any asbestos shipped by highway into here.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the Park Service and your time when you were mayor and some of those issues you had to deal with between the city and the park and those kinds of things.

STAN SELMER: Well, as I say, I don’t recall that there was any great earth-shattering disagreements between the park and the city.

I know that the park superintendent was not happy with me when I replaced the face of the Lower Lake Dam, because he didn’t believe we should be able to just take excavators and go up the hillside and do the work.

And he thought it should have been run through a -- a review, and that the park should have had a role.

KAREN BREWSTER: But was it within the boundaries of the park? STAN SELMER: Well, Skagway’s in the boundaries of the park. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, the whole town is? STAN SELMER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Um, it's mountaintop to mountaintop, is what I was told at one time. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: Is what the park can be involved with. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: But what -- what the park superintendent -- he was on one side. I was on the other.

I was on the side that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permit for the project allowed us for sixty years before then, up to that time, allowed us an access for machinery to go up that mountainside to do work on the project. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: And we just used our FERC license to do that. He thought it shoulda gone through a complete town review.

So that was a -- there was some gnashing of teeth on that, but --

KAREN BREWSTER: Which superintendent was that? Was that -- STAN SELMER: That was Clay Alderson. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: Yeah. Clay and I were good friends. We shared a son that -- we didn’t share a son. We each had a son who were great at basketball playing. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: And I used to broadcast basketball games with Clay. But, he had a role as park superintendent, and he made his thoughts known.

And we still went up and did the bridge work, and we’ve walked away from the permitted access. Although if we ever had a problem, we could go up there again and fix it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STAN SELMER: So. KAREN BREWSTER: Um.

STAN SELMER: That was one issue. I think there was some other issue, but it wasn’t really -- it was just things that we had to do.

Like I was telling you about, do we build the Goat Lake Project on the Brackett Wagon Road or not?

Up where we built the power house, we built a bridge across the river. And when you go across the river, there was the old telegraph line that ran along the Brackett Wagon Road.

And where our workmen would go to work every morning, they were going to start tripping on that, so I asked the park -- and this was very cooperative. I asked the park if I could cut it and roll it up and put it back 100 feet one way and 100 feet the other way. And they said, yes. And they went with me while I did this.

And then after the project was done, we had to run -- and this is what got me, just it -- I’m not a Park Service mentality. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: We had to go roll it out again and put it back together with a copper crimp.

And it was never going to work anyway. I mean, I don’t even know if it worked in the beginning.

But I suppose I can now, many, many years later, see the sense in it, but at the time, it was -- it seemed ridiculous. But nonetheless, we did it. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And nobody -- other than the maybe $100 it took to roll it up and roll it back, and then put it together again, another $100. $200 it cost. That’s all that the rate payers were out. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: So.

And that’s the other thing is anything you can do to the power company, they can charge the customers for.

So in a small town, you don’t want to have your rates raised because the federal government decides that you need a wire in place.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And then that -- yeah, that trickles back down to the community not liking the Park Service because they’ve raised their rates. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Yeah. Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now were you on the city council or were mayor during the period with the Moore cabin homestead property and that alignment? STAN SELMER: No, I don’t think I was. I think I was, uh, I was in between bouts of citydom when they moved the fence over at the Moore property.

KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. I’ve heard that was all very controversial. STAN SELMER: It was. I --

And I think there’s another issue up for grabs right now on that, as well. Um, and I’m not sure. I haven’t gotten involved, and I won’t. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But it seems to me that the park gave on moving that fence. I don’t think the Park needs to give again. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: And I believe, if you go over there, you can get two vehicles through there.

And if you went back and where the park took, maybe it was three feet. I don’t know, two feet.

Where the park gave the city property and moved their fence. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: If they extended that, maybe another twenty feet to the east, maybe I could see that, but I mean, generally speaking, there’s a --

When the park had their fence out before, I’ve seen vehicles come around that corner, and I’ve seen their bumpers hit the fence post.

KAREN BREWSTER: It’s because the -- the fence line for that property kind of cuts into the width of Fifth Avenue. STAN SELMER: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: And it’s to recreate the line -- boundaries of the original homestead, right? STAN SELMER: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so there was the fight about whether the park could have their fence out that far, or if they had to keep it aligned with the roadway? STAN SELMER: Right. Right.

And I believe John Mielke was the mayor at the time that all this came down. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: I don’t know who’s driving the bus on this current issue. Or --

KAREN BREWSTER: But the city finally agreed to let the park put the fence out, or they put the fence closer in? STAN SELMER: The fence is closer in.

KAREN BREWSTER: Than what the park wanted? STAN SELMER: Than what the park wanted. Uh -- KAREN BREWSTER: Because it still does cut into Fifth Avenue. STAN SELMER: Well, it does. KAREN BREWSTER: But it would have cut in more? STAN SELMER: More, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok.

STAN SELMER: Yeah. But as I say, is -- I think that if you take two standard-size vehicles, that they can pass at that same spot. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STAN SELMER: Right there.

And what I’m saying, if they’re going to do something like that at Fifth Avenue, between the Moore, the hardware/lumber yard, and the street -- KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. STAN SELMER: Then you’re gonna have to do something on Broadway.

Because the greatest commodity in the world is currently threatened every day when you put 5000, 10,000 people downtown on Broadway, not paying attention to anything, walking out in front of cars that are moving.

People have been hit on Broadway. As far as I know, nobody’s been killed, but in my lifetime there’ve been two people hit.

Why we didn’t hit anybody this year, I don’t have a clue.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, maybe a lot of local people just stayed away? As you say, it was just so busy.

STAN SELMER: Well, yeah, but, I mean, tourists. I mean, you go down to any part of Broadway and any part of Second Avenue, as it heads down to the cruise ship docks. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: And they’ve got different colored concrete.

The people that are visiting us think that’s a crosswalk. And I have stopped more than once. I didn’t do it this year, but I’ve stopped, and I’ve gotten out, and I said, "Folks, these are not crosswalks. These are frozen water line breaks dug up to be repaired and replaced with concrete. They’re not crosswalks."

But I mean, I’d have to tell a million people that. All I’m saying is, the little pinch point at Fifth Avenue should take a backseat to how are we going to govern traffic on -- on -- of people and vehicles on Broadway?

KAREN BREWSTER: So that sounds like, yeah, frustration with the Park Service and some of the things they’ve tried to do in the Historic District. STAN SELMER: I suppose, but I don’t know what they are. I don’t know --

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, when you were mayor or on city council, were there issues that came up that the park wanted to do things and the community was not so pleased with? Besides the Moore House?

STAN SELMER: Well, there’s always been the fight over Dyea, between the park land and the city land. And I think that’s pretty well under control.

But I can remember my daughter used to go over there and ride horses over there, and that used to annoy the park to no end.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and when you were growing up, that wasn’t park land at all. STAN SELMER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you guys go over there and do things out in Dyea? STAN SELMER: All the time. All the time.

And my wife’s great-uncle owned 500, 600 acres over there. I wish I had that instead of the Park Service. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: But I’m not making a life statement about it. I just wish that it was in private hands.

My wife and I were going to build a hotel over there, and um -- but this was on private land. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: This was not park land in any way.

And I think we could've built the hotel and had it set up over there for now because it’s right north of where Robert Murphy is. But --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because there’s still private inholdings? STAN SELMER: They’re inholders. Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But the park taking over that area did affect how people were able to use -- ? STAN SELMER: There were inholder issues, and I’m sure there are people that are still there that wouldn’t care if the park decided to leave town.

But I don’t know that there’s any ongoing warfare, verbal or otherwise, about things that are going on.

KAREN BREWSTER: But, well, that’s my question, is, yeah, how that’s changed?

Like, how was the response to the park in ’78 when they started versus now? STAN SELMER: Well, it depends on who you talk to. I didn’t follow any of the park coming into Skagway because I wasn’t here. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: I wasn’t here from the ’76 to ’81, I guess.

Um, but there are those issues that came up that inholders hated. People downtown hated.

They said they would never do that to us. I mean, there’s a lot of people that still say that.

That when they put the park in here, that they had promises from the park that this would never change, that would never change. I don’t have a list of what those things are. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But like I said, the understanding that I have is mountaintop to mountaintop is the park. And as far as I know, that things are generally in pretty fine state of affairs right now. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: The more people get old and, I hate to say it, but they die, a lot of the issues die with them. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And I don’t know. We’ve had some pretty good park superintendents, and I’ll include Clay as one of them, but Clay was one of the more stern guys.

But on the other hand, he -- you could work with Clay. Mike Tranel was good. Plus, he was a good rock and roll drummer. KAREN BREWSTER: That always helps. STAN SELMER: Yeah, it does. It does.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well yeah, I think, through time, both the community and the park may have learned some lessons about how to try and get along better on both sides. STAN SELMER: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Sometimes that takes time. STAN SELMER: It has to. It has to.

Because, I mean, how long did it take before somebody shot and killed Soapy Smith? That was a couple years. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: And I’m not saying that you should shoot and kill somebody, but, I mean, there were bad things happening in Skagway back in those days, and it took somebody getting killed to resolve some of the issues of law-abiding efforts in Skagway. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And once again, I’m not saying that we all should carry guns, although I carry a gun when I go out in the woods, and I hope to be able to continue to do that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: Um, I’m having a war with one of the gun companies right now about being able to get another gun for -- that I carry for bear protection. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: And it has nothing to do with the Park Service. KAREN BREWSTER: No. STAN SELMER: But it does happen to do with arguments that shouldn’t be there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: And shouldn’t cause problems.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, with the way the city works, what’s the relationship with the Historic District Commission? Did you have to ever deal with any of those issues, or they just take care of those themselves?

STAN SELMER: I had to deal with one, um, I think it was in 2011. The Historic District Commission had ruled or had overturned a decision.

Maybe it was the city council that overturned a decision by the Historic District Commission, and we had quite a --

My introduction that night, my first night as mayor, was what do we do with this? And I ruled in favor of the overruling.

And what it was, was a door in a building, and they weren’t going to let them put a door in the side of the building because there had never been a door at the corner of a building before.

Well, somebody had some bad information because I looked at a video that I think the Park Service did, and it showed a building with a corner door in it.

And so, if you can have it during the time you’re trying to protect, you sure as can have it now at the time you’re trying to make sure they do it the same way.

And so there were issues, even amongst -- that had nothing to do with the Park Service, that occurred with the Historic Commission. I don’t know how the relationship is now. It’s -- I think it’s probably still pretty good.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I’m just going to interrupt. Can you close that door? STAN SELMER: Um-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: Because your neighbor just turned his pickup on. Better, thank you. STAN SELMER: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I -- I didn't know. Some of the things that the Historic Commission has required and enforced over time, were those because -- from -- coming from the Park Service saying, "We need it this way?" Or it’s the Historic Commission making its own --

STAN SELMER: Well, I think it -- I don’t know that it’s anybody making their own decision, but there have been some mistakes made by both sides.

I mean, I can remember where they wanted to make a building over on, what was it, Third Avenue? East part, no, west part of Third Avenue, they wanted to protect a building that was no more historic than this microphone is a guitar.

I mean, it just was way off. But that was a combination of the park and the Historic District Commission. The park always has a seat -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, they do? STAN SELMER: -- on the Historic District Commission, or they used to. I’m not saying they still do. KAREN BREWSTER: They might, I don’t know. STAN SELMER: But I believe it’s a requirement. KAREN BREWSTER: Probably. STAN SELMER: That they have a representative.

And that -- I’ve never -- I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say, well, the Park Service representative on the Historic District Commission has really screwed up that commission. I don’t think I’ve heard that.

I don’t think that what they do is anti-Skagway. I think what they’re doing is trying to preserve Skagway.

That’s why this alley out here is the end of the Historic District. You can have your places you don’t have to build the way you do down there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And everybody’s in agreement with that. Or at least they have been. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And I just don’t want to see the Historic District expanded. That’s why I -- I’ve made it a personal decision to feed crows.

And I feed the crows in the summer time because somebody wants to put up a “Gateway to Skagway” sign out here, and arch it over the street. KAREN BREWSTER: On Broadway? STAN SELMER: At Broadway and Seventh and a Half.

And the day they do that, I’m going to start feeding the crows on Broadway. Because they don’t need that.

The people that own one of the shops over there, last day that the cruise ship was in was day before yesterday. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STAN SELMER: And the smart bus people bring people up to the corner out here at Seventh and Broadway. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: And the store was open. This store out here. The guy that wants to see that sign put up out there.

The store was out -- was open, and the buses were just driving up with people in it, and then they would just drive off with the people still in the bus. Instead of saying, "Well, this store is open." You know, and giving some support -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. STAN SELMER: To the stores that are north here. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And -- and I’ve told -- I’ve told the owners of that store, "Ask to have the buses stop on the north side of Seventh and a Half alley." KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: So that when they get out, they have to go by those stores. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: I would -- I would strongly support that. That’s a fair, level playing field. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But putting up a big sign up here, “Gateway to Alaska,” and having people come north because you can see this stupid sign, that’s an affront to me. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: That’s why I choose to live outside the Historic District.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and that sign is not something that was ever originally in place? STAN SELMER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No. STAN SELMER: No.

But money and efforts can make things happen. And they drew a picture of it, uh.

All I did was I redrew it, and I put a sign hanging down off the arch that said, “No tourists north of this street.”

And then on the other side I have, “Norwalk in town. Skagway residents stay home.” Let’s use it for what we can get out of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: But they haven’t put the -- they haven’t put the sign up yet. But I’ve got, I’ve got hanging those signs up there and feeding crows on Broadway as my weapons.

KAREN BREWSTER: So if there’s too many crows on Broadway, that’ll keep the visitors away? STAN SELMER: Well, it won’t keep the visitors away, but it will annoy the businesses. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see. And it would make a mess of the sign. STAN SELMER: And it’d make a mess of the sign, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: Yeah. Because I took pictures of that to make sure it would. Before they did any thought about that, there were some guy wires that the power company had put across the street. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. STAN SELMER: And the crows would hang on the wires. It had nothing to do with me. And then mess all over the street.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you’ve lived here a long time and seen a lot of changes from when you were growing up, and the railroad, and the railroad closing and reopening, and the park, and increase in tourism.

What do you think about all those changes? STAN SELMER: I think we need a lesson in enough’s enough.

And I don’t think we have the business mentality downtown. I don’t know if we have that mentality at the city leadership level, to say that, you know, no more cruise ships.

We don’t need to build another dock to bring another half a million people in. And yet you read, well, you’re missing another half a million people, you’re missing this amount of money, bla-ba-ba-bla-ba-ba.

But there’s nothing -- I mean, this valley isn’t growing. You know, we talk about all the climate changes that are coming here. The valley walls are not pinching together.

KAREN BREWSTER: Or they’re not getting wider, either. STAN SELMER: And they’re not getting wider.

And my dad was famous for saying that he measured the valley with a foot ruler from one side to the other, and it was the same size now as it was when he was a kid.

But the point is, is there’s nothing out there that’s making what extra people want to do here a reasonable experience. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: I mean, the people -- You ask some of the people. I don’t -- I didn’t ask any of the businesses, but I asked people that lived in town, how downtown was during the days that the railroad didn’t run? And they just -- they just shook their head. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. STAN SELMER: Just unbelievable.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. And so, how do you think things have fared with having the park here?

STAN SELMER: Well, I -- I think the park was a big reason that the city didn’t fold when the railroad closed.

And probably people will disagree with me, but they put a lot of my friends to work. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: And they worked them for years. There’s still Skagway people working for the park.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because they worked for the railroad, and then they could go and work for the park? STAN SELMER: They could go to work for the park.

And, uh, my brother-in-law has Parkinson’s disease, but he was one of the rebuild carpenters here, and they sent him to Maryland to learn how to rebuild other places.

And he ended up working at Glacier Park, until he retired, and he retired early because of his Parkinson’s. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: But the point is that, you know, the park has been good to my family. The park has been good to this town. And yeah, there’s been bumps.

I mean, there’s people in this town that probably dislike the railroad more than they dislike the park.

You know, and go figure that. Because I mean, the railroad’s always been the biggest provider of jobs, and the biggest provider of monies in the town.

And now we’re, you know, up to the point where we don’t want to give them a new lease on the docks. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh? STAN SELMER: And we want them to give the city the docks for free when the lease is over.

And I -- I’m just not sure where they get those ideas.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, why would people be against the railroad? STAN SELMER: Because the railroad is not paying them decent enough money for the lease that they have. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: Is, I think, the biggest issues.

Uh, my father and one of the current city assembly member’s fathers voted against the value that was placed on the waterfront. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. STAN SELMER: Back in 1968 when they decided to lease it to the railroad.

And there was another person that voted against it, which would have meant they would have had to raise the value. But the city mayor worked for the railroad and didn’t want to break the tie vote. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

STAN SELMER: So they had an executive session, and the city attorney convinced one of the no votes to vote yes. My father and one of the city assembly member’s father still voted no, but they were overridden, and so the railroad basically got the lease for nothing to start with.

I’m not saying it’s nothing now because they’ve gone through several reappraisals over the fifty-five years. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And so they’re getting whatever the market value is.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I guess I didn’t realize that the railroad leased from the city. I thought they --

Since the railroad’s been here for so long and such a player in the community, I figured they owned the rights to places they use. STAN SELMER: Well, they do, except for the ore dock and the Broadway dock, they don’t. The state owned the ferry terminal area. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

STAN SELMER: And yet the city was butted up against the state property. That’s why the railroad was able to build the Broadway dock.

And White Pass built the uplands. There was no land there, but they built the uplands with the understanding that the uplands would become Skagway’s. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: But there was no -- my memory of the original contract, there was never any consideration that when the contract was done, when the lease was complete, that all the -- the additional things that were built on the property went with it.

And I think the city thinks, some of the people of the city thinks that it does, and I think the railroad disagrees with them.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, when, what years were you on the city council, and what years were you mayor? Do you remember? STAN SELMER: I remember the mayor. I don’t remember the council.

I know I was elected to the city council as the youngest city council member, and that was in 19 -- I was elected in ’69. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. STAN SELMER: So I’d have been twenty-one, or -- KAREN BREWSTER: Thereabouts. STAN SELMER: Thereabouts. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: And I’m the second-longest serving mayor in Skagway, and that was -- so, ’69 I got elected, and then I didn’t complete my term because I left and went to college.

Um, and then in 1989, I ran on a write-in, which was a mistake, and I’ve never gotten over it.

I ran on a write-in against a longtime Skagway person and defeated him, and it caused a rift between two gold rush families. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm. STAN SELMER: That shouldn’t have been there.

But anyway, I got elected in ’89. I got elected in ’91, and nobody ran against me.

I got elected in ’93, and nobody ran against me. I got elected in 2011, and nobody ran against me.

And in that period of time, I think I ran for council one other time. And that was all I did. And I ran -- no, I ran for council one other time, and then I was appointed as a council member to fill a seat for the balance of a year. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

STAN SELMER: So, I think I was on the city council a total of three times, and I was mayor four times. KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. That’s a lot.

So during that long tenure, are there particular issues that stand out that you feel like you had an influence on, or you’re most proud of? STAN SELMER: Yeah, I think the one I’m the most proud of is, sometimes, I think is overlooked by everybody now, um, when I was elected to the council -- I was elected to the council in ’88, and then I ran for mayor in ’89.

While I was on the council in ’88, up through the time, my first term as mayor, I put together with one assembly member’s help, I put together a grant program for the businesses on Broadway that would install sprinklers in their building. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

STAN SELMER: And I had, before I did that -- before we had put together the grant program, I had gone from business to business to business to business, interviewing them as to what it would take for them to put sprinklers in.

Some of the people said, "Well, I can answer that in one word. Actually, it’s more than one word: Get out of my store". They didn’t want to talk to me. They’re not going to put sprinklers in.

And then the more people I saw, the more I realized that what’s missing is commitment from the city to help them do it, so we came up with this grant program.

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m surprised in that Historic District that that wasn’t required before. STAN SELMER: Yeah, I know.

They made a requirement out of it, but then I came along, and John Tronrud and myself, uh, pushed this through and got council support.

And I don’t know how long or if they even still have it, but it put sprinklers in Broadway. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you have to. STAN SELMER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: It seems like a safety issue. That’s why I’m surprised it was that late in happening. STAN SELMER: Yeah. Well, that’s Skagway.

KAREN BREWSTER: Were there any other particular controversial issues, you recall? That big fights you had to deal with?

STAN SELMER: Yeah, well, it wasn’t a big deal. I was, uh -- I don’t remember when I was on the city council. It was one of the times I was on the city council that, uh, the city manager gave an issued contract. Took it away from the person they issued it to and gave it to somebody else.

And so they filed charges against me because I had brought up the vote.

At the meeting after the city manager had done this, I brought up the vote to sanction what the city manager did.

And so they came after me because I had done that, and because my wife worked for the company who the contract went to that I made the motion at the city council table.

And that was a low point for me. Um, low because the city manager was the one that made the mistake, and yet, we needed to get the job done.

And the other guy that had the bid said he wasn’t going to pay any of the late fees, so he breached the contract, too.

So yeah, I had my day in court, and the judge threw my -- threw my case out. But still, I had to go through it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

STAN SELMER: And I didn’t like that. I’d been through -- I’d been through a couple other law things, not all of which were out of Skagway, and that’s just a very frightening time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, and it’s small town politics. For sure, being mayor and on the city council can be very challenging. STAN SELMER: Yep. Yep. But, I survived. KAREN BREWSTER: You survived.

Well, you survived this interview, too. STAN SELMER: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh, so I think we’ll wrap it up.

Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about, that we talked about before I put the recorder on, or when I talked to you and mentioned this interview?

Anything that I’ve forgotten to bring up? STAN SELMER: No, I think the interview was very well run, very well directed.

And, uh, I just hope that I’m around twenty years from now to do the next one. KAREN BREWSTER: I hope so.

And I just want to add for the listeners, there has been some refrigerator noise in the background. That hopefully hasn’t been too disruptive. See, it just stopped.

STAN SELMER: See, it just stopped now because you spoke out. KAREN BREWSTER: Because I mentioned it. Right. So, thanks Stan. STAN SELMER: All right.