The Skagway Borough Assembly voted to hit the brakes on the proposed Gateway Project, which is a plan to clean up contamination and expand the town’s port. Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn met with officials from White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad recently, and he told the assembly last week that it doesn’t seem like the company will give Skagway access to tidelands needed to complete the port project.
What will happen with the Gateway Project has been up in the air since the October election. Skagway voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed lease with White Pass, that would have extended the timeline for White Pass leasing tidelands from the municipality. In turn, the municipality would have gained site control for the Gateway Project and help paying for it. The current lease between Skagway and White Pass ends in 2023. With the lease rejection, municipal officials hoped the company would allow work for the Gateway Project in areas they currently lease.
“It’s clear to me that we’ve got to move on,” said Hahn at last Tuesday’s meeting.
He says he went into his meeting with White Pass President John Finlayson with a sense of urgency. Skagway has state funding to spend on the Gateway Project that expires in about seven months. There’s also long-standing contamination in the ore basin that needs to be cleaned up.
“There’s no sense of urgency on the part of White Pass for the Gateway Project or cleanup,” Hahn said. “So we really didn’t get to talk about the things I wanted to talk about…I pretty much by the end of the meeting I felt like it was a big fog because I really didn’t get any [specifics] out.”
KHNS could not reach Finlayson for comment by deadline for this story. Hahn and Mayor Mark Schaefer recommended the municipality stop work on the Gateway Project, which is at the 60 percent design phase with KPFF Engineers.
“The design was built around the relationship between two users of an area and we really wouldn’t build that design under another scenario,” Schaefer said. “If we were to build our own dock, it wouldn’t be what KPFF is designing. It’s gonna have to be a clean sheet of paper. I think we need to quit burning money.”
The assembly voted to halt any further design work for the Gateway Project, but to finish the permitting process it’s already going through. Chad Gubala is the Gateway Project Manager. He said the work the municipality has done on the project won’t be a waste.
“The value that you’ve gotten out of what you’ve done with Gateway is huge,” Gubala said. “I’m a little personally disappointed that we’re not able to execute this. However, that said, I think the municipality is set in having shovel-ready components ready on the shelf.”
Gubala says he will take the information collected and make sure it’s useful for future renovations or contamination mitigation. The municipality plans to investigate if state funds that were being used for the Gateway Project could go toward the small boat harbor instead.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran emphasized how vital Skagway’s port is to the town’s economy. He said without the revenue that comes from the port, Skagway wouldn’t be able to support the expensive, ‘quality of life’ projects that are on the table now, like a new public safety facility and an aquatic wellness center with a pool.
That was another theme at the assembly meeting – how to financially support these major projects. Hahn said if people want these facilities, they have to sacrifice something to pay for them.
“You know, I get nervous, and I wanted to make you seriously concerned about the fact that we’re financially strong but on the flip side, our eyes are bigger than our heads.”
Resident Tim Bourcy also warned against too much spending.
“We have to be really careful about where we’re going here,” he said. “I mean I look at this agenda and it’s kind of drunken sailor stuff, I mean it’s completely inappropriate and I would just urge caution about where you’re going.”
The assembly is considering how to pay for the proposed aquatic wellness center. The group talked about the possibility of a one percent sales tax increase during certain quarters of the year to repay general obligation bonds used to fund the aquatic center and a new public safety facility.
Assembly member Spencer Morgan said the public safety project shouldn’t be tacked on the proposed tax hike. Last year, voters approved a bond for the public safety building but rejected a sales tax increase that would repay it.
“I think the voters already told us how they feel about that,” Morgan said. “They did not want a sales tax to pay for that building.”
At this Thursday’s assembly meeting, there will be a public hearing on whether to raise the sales tax one percent to fund the aquatic center. It would hike the sales tax from five to six percent between April and September of 2017.