At the Skagway Borough Assembly’s meeting last week, members debated pushing back the date for the special election on the tidelands lease ordinance. The assembly also saw the 35 percent design for the planned Gateway port expansion.
Gateway Project Manager Dr. Chad Gubala says the 35 percent design is the ‘best guess’ for what can be accomplished within the current $23 million budget. That includes money from the state, the municipality of Skagway, and White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
The project is both a clean-up of legacy contamination in the ore basin and a replacement and enhancement of the existing dock structures. Those include the ore terminal, the Alaska Marine Lines dock, and the fuel dock.
The 35 percent design lists a projected cost of $2.8 million for dredging and capping to clean up contamination. Demolition of existing dock structures is estimated at $1.7 million. It also includes a $7.2 million ore terminal bulkhead wall and piers for AML and the Petro 49.
Gubala says the Gateway Project is under review by the Army Corps of Engineers. After their review, it will go into a public comment period. Assembly members will have the chance to ask questions or comment on the 35 percent design at the August 6th assembly meeting. Gubala hopes to send the project out to bid in October or November.
The presentation of the 35 percent design comes about a month before a scheduled election on the tidelands lease between the municipality of Skagway and White Pass Railroad. The lease dictates control and responsibility of the tidelands between the two parties for the next 35 years. It’s expected to bring in $11 million to the municipality during that time.
In a 4-2 vote earlier this month, the assembly approved an ordinance that authorizes the municipality to enter into the lease. That vote effectively sent the decision to the public. But some assembly members think the public might need more time before deciding whether to give their approval to the lease.
At last week’s meeting, Assemblyman Gary Hanson suggested rescheduling the lease vote from August 25 to October 6th, during the general election. Hanson said he heard from more than a dozen people who are concerned that the August election date is too soon.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran agreed.
“I don’t want to shove something down everybody’s throat if they’re not comfortable with it,” he said. “Because the perception that we’re trying to fast-track it is evident. And I think everybody should have the chance to ask questions, address concerns.”
Cochran said he doesn’t want a ‘no’ vote because people don’t have time to get their concerns addressed.
Mayor Mark Shaefer disagreed, saying the lease memorandum of understanding has been public for a year and seven months.
“I don’t think that you could possibly call that a rush,” Shaefer said. “We were accused of that right out of the gate when we brought the MOU out. Amazing. A year and seven months later and we’re still rushing it. I find that really not very accurate.”
Assembly member Dan Henry also said there’s been enough time for people to review the lease details.
“If they have an interest in this subject they do, if they’re not here, they’re not here,” Henry said. “I can’t force somebody to do anything, it’s everybody’s individual choice. Just as it will be, there will only be you and god in that booth and you’ll cast a vote. And the people at the end of the day will make a decision. And I think they’re more than capable of making that decision…after a couple informational meetings, they’ll be fully well-equipped.”
Hanson made a motion to set up a special meeting to discuss whether to reschedule the election. It was a tie vote, with Hanson, Cochran, and Spencer Morgan voting for the reconsideration and Henry, Angela Grieser, Steve Burnham voting against it. Mayor Shaefer broke the tie with a ‘no’ vote, although the motion would’ve failed even without a tie-breaker.
Borough Clerk Emily Deach says it’s still possible to change the election date. The still assembly would need to vote to repeal their resolution scheduling the August election.
KHNS will have a story about last Friday’s informational town hall meeting in Skagway about the tidelands lease Tuesday.