How can Skagway preserve its past while making room for growing industries? That was the focus of a second meeting between the community and port consultants hired to help move planning forward.
Consultants from Moffatt & Nichol were hired last year to help move forward stalled port planning. In 2015, voters rejected a tidelands lease between the borough and White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Right now, the municipality doesn’t have access to some areas of the port they were planning to renovate.
At Moffatt & Nichol’s second public meeting, the discussion centered around challenges, opportunities, and ongoing conversations with stakeholders.
“I like to talk about memory and prophecy,” said Scott Lagueux with Moffatt & Nichol. He’s the lead waterfront planner for the Skagway project.
“How do you sort of keep a foot in the past and celebrate that, and also sort of look forward and adjust to market conditions, look forward to sort of what this next generation wants this community to be?”
The cruise ship industry is growing fast, said Lagueux. Does Skagway want to make room for it?
“So there’s a lot of pressure on new destinations, new cruising regions, but also within the bedrock of the industry, places like Alaska,” Lagueux said. “There’s pressure to be able to take newer, more exciting vessels and to welcome them.”
Shaun McFarlane is the project manager and team leader. He said Skagway could see a decrease in business if it doesn’t grow alongside other destinations in the region which are preparing for bigger ships.
“You’re kind of in lock-step with these other communities,” McFarlane said. “If Ketchikan elects to move forward and accommodate [larger ships], if Juneau elects to move forward and accommodate and Skagway does not, as Scott pointed out where do those ships come?”
With that growth comes obstacles. Jaime Bricker, with White Pass talked about the challenges of congestion at the waterfront.
“Mainly I’m concerned with the people that aren’t trying to walk into town, are being picked up for a tour or by city transit and there’s not enough room at the head of most of the docks for parking while they’re waiting to hook up with their party of their tour, there’s not enough turnaround space,” Bricker said.
Other challenges raised include travel to and from town, and how visitors can get easily confused. The consultants also discussed legacy contamination at the ore dock and the ferry dock’s location in the middle of the port.
McFarlane brought up another stakeholder, the mining industry. But, he said where that will go in the future is not as easy to predict as the cruise industry.
“But we do recognize that supporting the mining industry, supporting Yukon ore is important to Skagway,” McFarlane said. “It’s important from your roots in the gold rush. This is a community that supports mining, and there is a market for it in the future.”
With these factors in mind, McFarlane and Lagueux presented nine draft alternatives for port renovations. They range from doing nothing, to redeveloping or replacing much of the port infrastructure, to developing new floats along the present rail dock or extending it. They also proposed options that involve a new Alaska Marine Highway float and redeveloping the city dock.
One question that wasn’t a big topic of conversation is access. That’s what stopped the municipality from making improvements as planned. There is currently no arrangement with White Pass to work in the areas that the railroad leases.
Moffat & Nichol is talking to White Pass and other stakeholders at the waterfront as part of their process to come up with a plan for the port.
There are a few key things they’re keeping in mind as they move forward: cleaning up ore basin contamination, separating tourism and industrial activities, and fostering year-round economic growth.
The designers will narrow down the alternatives and be back in town for another public meeting at the end of April. They plan to wrap up the first phase of planning at the end of June.