The Skagway Assembly wants to do what it can to prevent a three-month loss in winter ferry service. A refurbishment that could knock out marine highway access for a few months is planned for this winter. The assembly voted to ask for a delay in the project.
Mayor Mark Schaefer says when he was told Skagway might lose ferry service for three months…
“My reply is this community’s not gonna tolerate that,” Schaefer said.
The Alaska Department of Transportation wants to refurbish Skagway’s deteriorating ferry dock this winter. A spokesman said this week the work would likely suspend service for three months.
There isn’t any ideal alternative for Skagway. The best option seems to be asking for a delay of the refurbishment to winter of 2017. Then, the Kennicott ferry might be available to provide limited service using one of the other docks.
“Relief from the Kennicott is probably the best thing, because we can’t be cut off,” said Assemblyman Tim Cochran.
“[It] could be the best hope for a bad situation,” said Assemblyman Dan Henry.
The assembly unanimously agreed to recommend DOT delay the project. They also plan to request that the impact to service happen either before or after the holidays.
The refurbishment isn’t the only topic local officials have talked to DOT about recently. Collaborating on a cruise ship/ferry dock to accommodate breakaway-class cruise ships seemed like a hopeful alternative to the current stalemate with White Pass. But DOT has expressed more hesitation recently.
“I think it’s safe to say that the idea of this larger floating dock, there’s no real present path forward,” said Skagway port commission chair Tim Bourcy.
In the meantime, the assembly is trying to figure out how to make progress with White Pass, which currently controls crucial areas of the port where the municipality wants to make improvements.
“We’re losing ground,” said Henry. “We need to act. We need to get something done.”
Most of the assembly members seemed to be in favor of hiring a mediator to help facilitate discussions with White Pass. Port Commissioner Bourcy supported the idea.
“What we need is professional help,” Bourcy said.
The assembly and port commission are holding a joint meeting Tuesday (5/10) at 5 p.m. The mediator idea may be up for discussion during that gathering.
There were also a couple items on the agenda that were not related to the port. The assembly approved a salary hike for the borough permitting official position. Fire Department Chief Jeremy Simmons spoke against the raise. He said if the assembly wants to adjust the pay for borough positions, it shouldn’t be done piece by piece.
“The municipality needs to come up with a transparent, objective system for scoring all of the city positions that takes into the account what the cost is for those positions in other communities of our size or economic level,” Simmons said.
Current permitting official David Van Horn recently tendered his resignation. Borough manager Scott Hahn said the responsibilities of the job have grown.
“This is a town of 1,000 but it’s a town of 15,000 or whatever, everybody gets moved in here in the summer, there’s all these issues,” Hahn said. “There’s some big planning concepts. I’d like to have somebody who has some planning experience too. It’s a big job.”
The assembly voted unanimously to approve a starting salary hike from $48,000 to $55,700. With benefits, it’s an additional $10,000 cost to the borough.
The assembly rejected a proposal to designate an unnamed creek ‘Three-and-a-Half-Mile Creek.’ Proponents said it would help agencies that are studying the creek for ways to enhance coho spawning habitat. The reason for the assembly’s rejection? Basically, the name is too boring.
“Three point five mile creek? I feel bad for the creek,” said Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr.
The assembly referred the issue to the civic affairs committee. They hope to get more public input to give the creek a more interesting name.
Finally, the assembly met in executive session to negotiate a new contract for Hahn, who has been with the borough for two years. After the half-hour closed-door meeting, the assembly voted to make changes to the contract but did not disclose any more information, because it has not been finalized. Hahn said Friday he plans to accept the contract and continue in his post as borough manager.