Skagway residents have been waiting more than a year to finalize a lease between the town and White Pass Yukon Railroad for the town’s tidelands. A memorandum of understanding, or MOU, released to the public last January outlined the basics. Since then, attorneys have been transforming those details into a legal document. It’s taken longer than first anticipated, but the public may see a lease soon.
When the MOU was first released, Mayor Mark Schaefer said the lease might be ready for a public vote by spring. Skagway voters have the final say in approving the agreement.
But that didn’t happen and city officials haven’t said much about it since then. At a recent assembly meeting, Dan Henry, who is on the negotiating team for the municipality, brought it up. He said the city and White Pass are still working on it. He told KHNS this week he expects the public will get to see a final document soon.
“Our target is, during this spring, this will come to a conclusion,” Henry said. “Good, bad, indifferent, like it, love it, hate it, whatever it may be, this will come to a conclusion. And I’m hoping that that can happen in probably the next 30 to 45 days. That would be my hope.”
White Pass president John Finlayson said this week from Toronto he agreed with that timeline. He says he feels confident there will be a lease that both sides can agree on and send to voters.
“I feel that we are fairly close to reaching an agreement and I would say that if we say that we reach that agreement within the next four weeks that would not surprise me,” Finlayson said.
Henry and Finlayson say there aren’t any major changes in the new lease compared to last year’s MOU.
The new lease is being negotiated because the town wants to move ahead with the Gateway project to expand and rehabilitate the port. But they need access to some of the tidelands White Pass controls. White Pass, meanwhile, relies on the tidelands for its train and dock operations and wants to assure control of the area past 2023.
Preliminary work has already started on the Gateway project. It’s not clear what will happen to that momentum if voters don’t approve the new lease.