This Thursday is the first assembly meeting for newly-elected Skagway officials. One major question is how the new members will influence ongoing waterfront lease talks.
Earlier this month, Skagway elected two tidelands lease opponents.
Write-in candidate Monica Carlson ousted incumbent mayor Mark Schaefer. She is moving from an appointed assembly seat to the mayor’s chair.
As an assembly member, Carlson has been the most outspoken against a new 15-year tidelands lease with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
“We own the waterfront and we need to act like it,” Carlson said at a September meeting.
But Carlson says if the assembly chooses to continue its pursuit of the new lease, she’ll abide by that direction and work to make the document favorable to Skagway.
Write-in candidate David Brena topped the assembly race. This was his third time running for office on a platform of opposition to an extended White Pass lease. At a recent meeting, he pointed to what some see as White Pass’ delay of ore basin contamination clean up.
“Everybody likes the White Pass, but I’m not in favor of giving them a gift,” Brena said. “And I’m certainly not in favor of negotiating with somebody that holds something like the cleanup of the harbor over our heads.”
Longtime public servant Dan Henry was narrowly elected to the second assembly seat. He has refused to give his opinion on the lease. He says it doesn’t matter what he thinks because if the assembly does move an agreement forward, it will go to voters to decide.
This isn’t the first time Skagway officials have been immersed in lease talks with White Pass. But now, there is a heightened sense of urgency. Skagway is at risk of missing out on larger cruise ships if it doesn’t build a new floating dock soon.
That’s according to the Cruise Lines International Association, which told Skagway leaders to expect larger vessels by 2019.
Port consultants say the ore dock is the best place to add the required infrastructure. But White Pass has a lease on that city land until 2023.
White Pass agreed to cooperate on the floating dock if the city approves a new 15-year lease. That would extend the railroad’s control of the ore dock and Broadway dock tidelands until 2038.
At the last assembly meeting, members were frustrated by the most recent communication from White Pass. The railroad had crossed out sections of the working proposal that assembly members see as essential to the city’s interests.
“You know, it’s kind of a ping pong ball that’s being batted back and forth right now,” Assembly member Orion Hanson said. “And at a certain point, our timeline is up. And if we’re not going to make an action, then we move forward and we go in a different direction. And I think with what White Pass responded, that’s just the volley going back. It’s not really going any closer.”
The discussion will continue at this Thursday’s assembly meeting, with the newly-elected officials. The draft memorandum of understanding is one of just three business items on the agenda.
The meeting is Thursday at 7 p.m. in assembly chambers.