A letter from a cruise line association has put more pressure on Skagway officials to take action on stalled port development. The borough assembly held a special meeting this week and will continue the discussion Thursday.
The letter is from the the Cruise Lines International Association. It says Skagway’s existing docks will not be able to accommodate large ships coming to Alaska in 2019. It goes on to encourage the city to work with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad and move forward.
Under a lease that expires in six years, White Pass controls almost the entire port. A lease extension proposed in 2015 would have given the municipality access to build a floating dock and clean up contamination in the ore basin. But the lease extension was rejected in a public vote.
“I think we’ve got to sit down face-to-face with [White Pass] and really get in a room and see what they’re really thinking,” said Assemblyman Spencer Morgan.
Since the lease proposal was thrown out a year and half ago, the municipality has struggled to find a path forward. The assembly wrote resolutions and letters saying they want to reopen negotiations with White Pass. But that hasn’t happened.
“Last year we passed a resolution saying we were willing to reopen talks with the railroad regarding access to the waterfront,” said Assembly member Steve Burnham Jr. “But I don’t think we ever said we would like you formally to show us what your vision is on the waterfront.”
The assembly is paying a consultant about $200,000 to research short-term options for port development. But Burnham said the public deserves to hear what White Pass’s vision is.
“If they want a lease or they want some sort of other agreement, I think the onus is on them to tell us what their vision is so the public can understand,” Burnham said. “I feel that it’s appropriate to ask the railroad where they see themselves on the waterfront in the future.”
Consultant Moffatt & Nichol is set to give a final presentation on June 15. Assemblyman Orion Hanson said the borough needs to take immediate action after that.
“After that presentation, we pick a plan and then we go to negotiations,” Hanson said. “We’re gonna see what is our only viable option and we’ve got to aggressively pursue it with White Pass at that point.”
Moffatt & Nichol’s initial proposals are focused on modifying the current docks to accommodate bigger ships. But a significant complicating factor is contamination in the ore basin.
The assembly met behind closed doors for about an hour Tuesday to talk with the borough attorney about legal options for cleanup.
“Any kind of cooperative project includes cleaning up the contamination,” said Mayor Mark Schaefer. “I think the community demands it.”
The assembly didn’t make any decisions at Tuesday’s meeting. Instead, they decided to extend the discussion about reopening White Pass negotiations to the regular meeting Thursday at 7 p.m.
There are a number of other items on the agenda Thursday, including a second hearing on the budget, adoption of a welcoming community resolution, and a discussion about housing solutions.