A potential tidelands lease is a distinguishing factor in Skagway’s contest for mayor. Incumbent Mark Schaefer supports the current direction the assembly is taking, negotiating a new lease with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. But write-in challenger Monica Carlson does not.
“I think in order for us to secure our future, we have to own our future,” Carlson said. “We have to not rely on someone else.”
Carlson has been immersed in the lease issue since being appointed to an empty assembly seat this summer. She is opposed to prolonging White Pass’ control over tidelands, even if it means the city will have to wait until 2023 to install a new floating dock for larger cruise ships.
“We’ll have five years by the end of the lease and we’ll be able to develop a really good plan to operate our port,” Carlson said. “We can spend the money and build a floating dock and wait until White Pass is done with the lease and move our floating dock in. I don’t think that’ll happen because White Pass will lose too much revenue. But I do think there’s a way forward for our community without White Pass.”
In contrast, incumbent mayor Mark Schaefer is supportive of a new lease.
“It’s still a work in progress, I think it’s much improved over what we had before,” he said.
Schaefer was in favor of the 2015 contract that voters turned down. In that same election, he was voted into his second two-year term as mayor.
He said if a new lease were to fail, White Pass may build a floating dock anyway. But, he said, that’s an unknown.
“Will they take care of the industry themselves? I don’t know,” Schaefer said. “I kind of suspect that they might, they always have before. So it’s something yet to be seen. We’ll keep working on what we’re working on and our plan b will be to develop the plan should we not get something accomplished sooner than later.”
Schaefer is a manager with the railroad. He and three of the current assembly members work for White Pass. He addressed the question of whether this is a conflict of interest.
“If there are things that I see that are similar to White Pass, that’s me thinking that way,” he said. “I may happen to agree on some things, but I’m at the municipal table to do municipal work. I think my record shows that.”
Schaefer and Carlson also discussed Skagway’s housing issues. The town has a very limited amount of buildable land and a population that balloons in the summer cruise season.
Schaefer said it is a problem, but one private developers seem to be working on.
“Where there’s opportunity, sometimes the private market takes care of it,” Schaefer said. “[There is] only so much the government can do. I don’t think we’re gonna get into building housing, other than the senior center.”
Carlson advocated for the city to take a more active role, potentially following the example of other seasonal communities like Breckenridge, Colorado.
“They created a one percent sales tax that went to affordable housing,” Carlson said. “What they did, they built apartment buildings and the seasonal people rented the apartments. And what they found is when those apartments became available, those people moved out of homes, and then those homes became available for families.”