The Skagway Assembly made progress on three key items at their latest meeting. The group appointed a new member, approved designs for a new waste facility, and moved closer to reopening negotiations with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
Monica Carlson is the newest Skagway Assembly member. Carlson is the operating manager at Skagway Streetcar Company and previously served on the city council.
She replaces Angela Grieser, who resigned from her position last month.
The assembly voted 4-1 to appoint Carlson. Assemblyman Tim Cochran said her experience and knowledge of the key issues at play for the municipality right now made her stand out.
“Monica’s been on the council two terms. Two one-year terms,” said Cochran. “She’s been with Streetcar for several years, served on several boards and she was treasurer for little dippers for six years. She does understand the importance of the waterfront. I think Skagway is forefront in her mind and I think she would probably – that was the clincher for me.”
Assemblyman Jay Burnham voted against appointing Carlson. He said he supported Candace Cahill.
“I have heard from at least nine, ten different people just on the street saying that they supported Candace for the seat,” said Burnham. “It is a four month seat. I’m pretty much echoing Steve on this. I think that Candace could hit the ground running.”
Carlson will serve until the October municipal election. The Haines Assembly took a similar direction last month, choosing a candidate with the most municipal experience. They appointed former mayor Stephanie Scott to an empty seat.
The group also voted to approve the 35 percent design plan for the Solid Waste, Recycling and Public Works Project.
Orion Hanson voted against it. He said the cost of the project is too high. The total cost is estimated around $19 million.
“In terms of recycling, yes. I think it’s something we need to improve on,” said Hanson. “But with our fiscal situation I think it would be totally irresponsible of us as an assembly to put forth the direction that we’re going to go ahead and spend another $23 million on something that’s not really needed.”
Hanson was referring to the total cost of the project, including an RV park. That part was not approved. He was not the only one concerned about the cost. Here’s Assemblyman Tim Cochran.
“I’m for the direction but that’s it,” said Cochran. “I want to see a viable port, I want to see some infrastructure before we commit to building anything extravagant. And I think that’s been echoed by the community. But I think we need to move in a direction to utilize that property out there. But it may not be for 10 years.”
Adopting the design plans doesn’t commit the municipality to spending the money. It just indicates the direction they want to move in.
Having an assembly-endorsed plan could also help when applying for grants for the project.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. is liaison to the solid waste advisory committee that recommended the assembly adopt these plans.
“This is not a pie in the sky sort of thing,” said Burnham. “It’s long-term planning and it makes sense. We don’t’ have to do it right now, but we should make a decision about whether or not we’re ever going to do it.”
Hanson was still not satisfied.
“We cannot afford to keep proposing things that cost $10 and $20 million one time after another,” said Hanson. “Our debt is going to be way out of control before we know it. And we’re approaching that level right this moment.”
Burnham says the project wouldn’t be done all at once, but rather in phases as a long-term project.
They voted 4-1 to approve and adopt the plan.
The assembly is also preparing for a meeting with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, to re-open port negotiations. The company owns much of Skagway’s waterfront.
Port improvements stalled in 2015, when voters rejected a tidelands lease extension with the railroad.
But now, the cruise industry is putting pressure on the municipality to make necessary port improvements that will allow Skagway to accommodate larger ships that are coming in a few years.
So, the assembly asked for a meeting with the railroad to start working toward making those improvements.
White Pass president John Finlayson spoke at the assembly meeting. He said the company is prepared to work with the assembly on mutual waterfront goals.
“We’re open to discuss these things,” said Finlayson. “And I feel strongly that the city can’t do this alone and we can’t do this alone. We need to have a two-way discussion that’s meaningful on both sides. The sooner we can have that the better.”
The assembly voted to organize a port negotiation team. It includes assembly members Tim Cochran and Orion Hanson. Also on the team are the borough attorney and Shaun McFarlane from Moffatt & Nichol, the company hired last year to help move along stalled port improvements.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the total cost of the Solid Waste, Recycling and Public Works Facility project is around $19 million. Not $23 million as previously reported.