Cruise ships at Skagway's railroad dock. (Emily Files)

Cruise ships at Skagway’s railroad dock. (Emily Files)

Over the next few months, a group of consultants will try to move Skagway’s stalled port improvement goals forward. The borough assembly hired the infrastructure advisory firm Moffatt & Nichol as a port consultant. Representatives from the firm teleconferenced with municipal leaders in December to lay the groundwork for their plans.

Skagway has been stuck in a sort of limbo over the port ever since a public vote rejected a tidelands lease between the borough and White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

The lease would have given White Pass rights to waterfront property for another 35 years. And it would have given Skagway access to areas of the port currently under White Pass’s control.

That plan was thrown out by voters in October of 2015. There are bigger cruise ships on the horizon and millions of dollars in state grant funding set to expire in 2018.

Port commissioner Tim Bourcy told Moffatt & Nichol consultants that the port needs to expand its capabilities for mineral and other shipments coming in and out of the Yukon.

“You know, the drum has been beating in this community for many years that we want the economy to be diversified and more opportunities for year-round employment,” Bourcy said. “And in order to do that we have to realize the potential of the port to engage the opportunities in the north.”

But, Bourcy said that should be balanced with the needs of Skagway’s biggest economic driver: cruise ship tourism.

“We do not want to upset the apple cart and take away from the experience of people who are coming here and spending many, many dollars each day in this community.”

Moffatt & Nichol consultants have worked in other Southeast towns on cruise ship facilities. Shaun McFarlane said places like Juneau and Ketchikan are already getting ready for larger cruise ships.

“So it is important for Skagway to keep in lockstep with these other communities so you’re not left behind,” McFarlane said.

McFarlane will serve as the project manager for the Skagway port planning. Four other consultants will work with him, including one who will conduct a waterfront property appraisal. That’s something residents and municipal leaders have advocated for since the lease rejection.

“I think that’s part of the problem we ran into on the failed vote with [the tidelands lease],” said Skagway port commissioner John Tronrud. “In the public process there was not enough understanding of the true value or the true benefits to not only the community but the industry.”

Tronrud and others asked Moffatt & Nichol to conduct the appraisal early on in their planning process.

The consultants also plan to meet with port stakeholders, host community meetings, and look into contamination in the ore basin.

A community open house with the port consultants is planned for Jan. 23.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that Moffatt & Nichol worked on cruise ship facilities in Juneau. That is incorrect. Moffatt & Nichol did design cruise ship facilities in Hoonah.