The Skagway Assembly is ramping up the discussion about an agreement that could impact the future of the waterfront. The group met in an unusual setting Saturday night. And special meeting on a memorandum of understanding with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is set for later this week.
Assembly members gathered at the public safety building Saturday night.
The informal retreat was suggested by newly-elected mayor Monica Carlson.
“We need to have more self-determination,” said Carlson. “We have to understand what’s coming and how to plan for it. We are behind.”
Carlson recently proposed ending negotiations with the railroad.
Assembly members shared what they see as the key issues surrounding the waterfront. And, what they see as the biggest concerns for residents.
“What I want to see in the end, not talking about lease or anything else is the municipality having control of the entire waterfront,” said Burnham. “All the docks. How we get there, I’m not sure how to do that exactly.”
Orion Hanson and Tim Cochran have been working to negotiate an agreement with White Pass.
Hanson said Skagway’s economic future is a big concern for residents.
“Paramount to me is that we stabilize and ensure our economy going forward,” said Hanson. “I think there’s a lot of worry about that in town.”
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. emphasized that word – stabilize.
“Stabilization is I think what the community is after,” said Burnham. “I don’t agree that we don’t have control moving forward with the lease. For taking full control and decision-making control over the waterfront.”
David Brena argued that by establishing a new lease with White Pass, Skagway would be losing a lot of money. He presented numbers from an economic analysis he put together.
“It’s $40 million difference to the city if we operate our own waterfront over the term of a lease, than if we don’t,” said Brena.”
But Hanson pushed back.
“At what cost do we take our docks back?” asked Hanson. “And how much investment does that take? And how much debt do we incur to do that?”
A memorandum of understanding between the municipality and White Pass would make way for a new, 15-year, tidelands lease. Burnham said it’s important to recognize that this is a new lease.
“It’s not the same lease that was signed in 1968,: said Burnham. “It’s a different lease. So the amount of control you want on the waterfront is contingent upon what is in the lease. How much control do you want?”
Assemblyman Cochran said the current MOU addresses the key issues residents had with a 35-year lease extension rejected in 2015.
“The term was too long on the first one,” said Cochran. “There wasn’t enough money. There wasn’t enough control. And it needed to be cleaned up. Those are the four key items. Those have all been addressed in this new MOU, which is supposed to transition, in the next 15 years, in my understanding, for us to take over the whole peninsula.”
The assembly is set to continue the discussion about the MOU on Wednesday. That meeting is at 7:15 p.m. in assembly chambers.