On Thursday, Skagway Borough Assembly members chose a port consultant they hope will bring ‘a fresh set of eyes’ to stalled progress on the waterfront. The assembly also approved the purchase of Long Bay property for public use and decided to proceed with engineering for a school vocational education building.
Planned port renovations that were part of the so-called Gateway Project have been limbo for about a year now. Last October, a public vote rejected a tidelands lease between the municipality and White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Since then, movement towards renovations has ground to a halt. That’s what brought the assembly to this point: seeking outside help to plan for the waterfront’s future.
“The only thing I was kind of looking for is a fresh set of eyes on it,” said Assemblyman Jay Burnham.
He wasn’t the only one to say a fresh perspective might help the situation.
The borough received four port consultant proposals. One of them was from a company that has history with Skagway’s now-defunct Gateway Project. Seattle-based KPFF Engineering received the highest marks from a borough staff scoring committee that reviewed the proposals.
But a different company earned the endorsement of the port commission. That group is Anchorage-based Moffatt & Nichol.
Most of the assembly members also favored Moffatt & Nichol, with KPFF and Pacific Contract Company coming in second-place. But Assemblywoman Angela Grieser objected to a line in Moffatt & Nichol’s proposal. It says ‘This team will develop a long-term plan for Port expansion and improvement, and will lay the ground work for a long-term lease with White Pass.’
“Maybe we should run the port in 2023,” Grieser said. “I mean, it’s like they’re not even considering that option at all. So that’s why I didn’t put them first on mine.”
But the other assembly members disagreed with Grieser’s interpretation, saying that the borough can refine what it wants the consultant to do.
“I think the intent of what their proposal was stating with regard to White Pass is the short-term. If there is something to be done in the short term it must involve White Pass,” Assembly member Steve Burnham Jr. said.
The assembly ultimately voted for the Moffatt & Nichol proposal 4-1, with Grieser opposed. Next, the municipality will bring the consultant to Skagway for a visit to refine the contract.
Steve Burnham Jr. recommended the formation of a steering committee made up of assembly members and port commissioners to work with the consultant.
The assembly also decided to put out a request for proposals for preliminary design engineering on a potential vocational education building. There is already $140,000 budgeted for the work. Assemblyman Tim Cochran described what the school board envisions for the voc ed center:
“We’d like to get a building that can house automotive, gas and diesel mechanic, welding, culinary arts, woodworking. Not just for school kids but also for community members.”
To save money, Steve Burnham Jr. suggested the engineer look into using the fire department building that will soon be vacated because of the new public safety facility. Assembly member Spencer Morgan agreed.
“It’s been brought up many times about projects we’re doing and it seems like every meeting we’re bringing up another one,” said Morgan. “And it would be nice to make use of the facilities we already have.”
Not everyone liked that idea, but they agreed it wouldn’t hurt to look into it.
Finally, the assembly voted to move forward with purchasing 16 acres of private property on Long Bay for $800,000. The property is owned by the family of the late Bud Matthews. When he lived there, Matthews let the public use the beach for recreation. Residents have asked the assembly to retain the land for public use.
There are still some unanswered questions about how the municipality will manage the property. Morgan suggested the assembly involve the parks and recreation committee in those decisions.
The next assembly meeting is Oct. 20.