The Skagway Borough Assembly last week voted unanimously to push back a public vote on the pending tidelands lease. They also heard more information about planning for the Gateway port expansion project.
At a meeting in July, Assemblyman Gary Hanson suggested reconsidering the August 25th election date for the tidelands lease. He said more than a dozen people had told him they thought that date was too soon. But Hanson’s proposal failed in tie vote, with Assembly members Steve Burnham, Dan Henry and Angela Grieser voting ‘no.’
In the month since that meeting, Burnham changed his mind.
“I spoke with many people throughout the town, I didn’t even mention what the election was about, I just said ‘did you know there’s an election?’ And they didn’t know,” Burnham said. “And that’s more than I needed to know.”
Burnham asked for a resolution that would repeal the decision to hold the August 25th special election and instead move the lease vote to the general municipal election on October 6th.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran mentioned the town hall meeting held to inform people about the 35-year lease between the municipality and White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Many people at that meeting asked for the election to be pushed back to give the public more time to study the agreement.
“And the consensus from just about everyone was the perception that it was being hurried,” Cochran said. “And I don’t see any reason, we’ve been working on this for seven years — [a] general election would give people time to breathe. This is the busiest time of the year, so I’m all for putting it off a few more weeks for the general election.”
Henry, one of the three who voted in July against rescheduling the election, had also changed his mind. He said he thought it was a good idea to have an election with a singular focus on the tidelands lease, but…
“This bigger reason that I would agree with moving it to October 6th, is the amount of disinformation and, geez, I don’t want to call them lies, but I don’t know what to call them when you don’t tell the truth,” Henry said. “For those things to be corrected, I suppose the additional time is important.”
In contrast to last month’s tie vote, the assembly voted unanimously to cancel the special election and put the tidelands vote on the October ballot.
So, at the October election, Skagway voters will not only elect a mayor, two assembly members, and two school board members, but they will also decide whether to ratify the tidelands lease.
That also means engineers on the Gateway Project will have to wait a while longer before they know whether work contingent on the tidelands lease will be able to happen. The goal of the project is to clean up legacy contamination in the ore basin and replace and enhance existing dock structures. Negotiations on the new lease started because the town needs access to some of the tidelands White Pass controls to move forward with the Gateway Project.
Project manager Chad Gubala was at last week’s assembly meeting to talk about the 35 percent design from KPFF Engineers that was released last month. Gubala says the project is in ‘good shape.’ But he does have one major concern. It centers around the ore terminal owner –the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA.
“The challenging part has been interacting with the owner and operators of the ore terminal,” Gubala said. “Because the ore terminal has still pending four notice of violations from ADEC and one notice of contamination. So part of our project is to spend 4 million dollars to mitigate the harbor and the ore terminal is still allegedly discharging contaminants into the harbor. So we’re trying to get that fixed.”
Gubala says it’s been six months since the state Department of Environment Conservation cited AIDEA for environmental violations. He says AIDEA has taken action to address the violations but they have not produced a plan that’s acceptable to the state DEC and the municipality.
“You know the hard part right now, we’ve been shining a bright light into a lot of dark corners,” Gubala said. “And it’s cleaning things up and getting things to work transparently is pretty challenging sometimes especially given the amount of money in the commerce that takes place in that facility.”
Gubala says Skagway is working with ADEC to make sure AIDEA properly addresses the violations. He says ‘one way or another’ mitigation work will still go forward as part of the Gateway Project.