Cruise ships loom over Skagway's Broadway Street. (Courtesy Skagway CVB)

Cruise ships loom over Skagway’s Broadway Street. (Courtesy Skagway CVB)

As Skagway enters the new year, leaders want to do what they can to prepare for the port’s future. At a meeting Thursday, the borough assembly agreed to start brainstorming a sort of plan B for the port if they are unable agree on a lease with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad beyond 2023. The assembly also moved to explore implementing local environmental regulations to protect the waterfront.

Mayor Mark Schaefer added the two discussion items to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. He said the future of the port is something he “wakes up at 2 in the morning thinking about.”

Schaefer proposed drawing up a request for proposals for how to run Skagway’s port if the municipality’s current lease with White Pass doesn’t extend beyond its expiration date of 2023.

“It would be a kind of low-cost thing we can do to see if we got interest from whoever…doing something with the port in 2023, failing to solve any problems in the next six years,” Schaefer said.

The assembly didn’t go into detail about what the RFP would involve. KHNS was unable to reach Schaefer by deadline for this story. But Assembly member Tim Cochran told KHNS the RFP would basically be a back-up plan for how to govern the port if the current arrangement with White Pass doesn’t continue.

“If nothing is agreed upon with the current lease holder now, this is like our insurance policy,” Cochran said at the meeting. “We need to have a plan.”

That sort of back-up plan is something the municipality didn’t have when voters rejected a lease extension in 2015. Since then, important waterfront renovations have been in limbo.

But not all of the assembly members were on board with the idea right away.

“I personally think this might be a little premature,” said Orion Hanson.

Hanson pointed out that the borough just hired Moffatt & Nichol as a port consultant. The hope is that the consultant will help Skagway move past the current stalemate between the borough and White Pass.

“We’ve got Moffatt & Nichol engaging the stakeholders, we’re paying them $200,000 to advise us with how to move forward with immediate plans,” Hanson said. “So we might be alienating some of these stakeholders if we do that.”

Steve Burnham Jr. countered that the assembly wouldn’t be jumping the gun by just starting this discussion.

“The important aspect of the RFP is the creation of the RFP, and not necessarily the execution of the RFP,” he said.

The assembly voted unanimously to refer the matter to the port commission. They asked the port commission to draft an RFP outlining a plan for the port ‘post 2023.’

Schaefer also brought up the idea of creating local environmental regulations for the port.  He said in his opinion, the municipality can’t trust the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC).

“We know that we can add environmental control above and beyond what ADEC does,” Schaefer said. “I personally am not very satisfied with ADEC. I don’t like the way they’re operating.”

Steve Burnham Jr. said the municipality might need to contract with someone who specializes in environmental regulations.

“It needs to be pretty comprehensive and it needs to come along with a recommendation on how we make sure it’s kept that way. How do you enforce it?”

The assembly voted to send this matter to the port commission as well, for further discussion.

At the next meeting, the assembly will consider a design contract for a proposed school vocational education building. That decision was delayed to give assembly members more time to review the proposals.