INTRO: A meeting Thursday, Skagway Assembly members disagreed on many aspects of a proposed waterfront lease. The assembly does agree that a new contract with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad should go to a public vote. But what that document will look like depends on whether the six assembly members can work through their differences. KHNS’s Emily Files reports. _____ TRACK: The issue driving the lease discussion is Skagway’s need to install a floating dock for larger cruise ships by 2019. White Pass manages the cruise ship docks. In order to make renovations, the railroad wants a 20-year tidelands lease extension. In an economic analysis, port consultants said that if bigger ships aren’t able to dock in Skagway, the town will still see an increase in cruise revenue. It’ll just be much less of an increase than it could get with the larger vessels. That prompted resident Ken Russo to question whether it would really be that bad for the city to lose those ships. ACT 2: Could you live with not as much of an increase for a year to give yourself some time to negotiate a real and effective and more fair win-situation for city? Rather than being pressured into we gotta do this lease right now, I’m under the gun, gotta do it, gotta do it. ACT 1: I do respect what is being said, that, is it the end of the world if we miss the boat one year? TRACK: That’s Assemblyman Orion Hanson. He said maybe Skagway could sustain the loss in cruise revenue. But he worried about the negative affect that would have on local families. He related it to his childhood, when his father couldn’t find work in Skagway. ACT 2: And so he went to Hoonah. And for a couple years, he built houses in Hoonah. And I was 5,6 years old when that was happening. And it wasn’t very fun. I really don’t want to see us lose business to Hoonah again. And I think we do have a crystal ball, we can see that’s coming. TRACK: Hanson said he wasn’t ‘head-over-heels’ for the lease proposal. But he said it could be a palatable deal if the city negotiated it down to a 15-year term, with higher rent payments and more control over the land. Mayor Mark Schaefer echoed something that’s been said a few times. The lease extension could give Skagway time to work on its plan to take over management of the port. ACT 4: So to me, this is sort of like an exit strategy where we regain control of the port, which is one of the things that people are asking for. TRACK: But the fact that the exit strategy wouldn’t happen for another couple decades is a sticking point for some assembly members, including Spencer Morgan. Previously, the assembly said a 15-year lease might be OK. But Morgan said the city should try for an even shorter timeframe of 10 years. Hanson is one of two assembly members on the negotiating team. He responded to Morgan. ACT 5: Ten years – White Pass is not going to go for it. Spencer: My point is put that proposal forward and let them work with it. Orion: Well it was 20 years, we came with 10 years and settled for 15. Spencer: maybe we don’t. TRACK: Assembly members continued to butt heads as they talked about the lease issue. Hanson asked his peers for specific direction that he and Tim Cochran could take to their next negotiation meeting. Instead, the assembly decided to schedule a special meeting on Wednesday, July 26 to work on the details of the city’s counterproposal. Jay Burnham said maybe the city shouldn’t acquiesce to White Pass’s request for a new lease. He said the cruise ship floating dock shouldn’t be contingent on a new, 15-or-20-year contract. ACT 6: If they don’t want to just look at a floating dock, that’s on them, they’re the ones stopping the municipality from moving forward with a floating dock there. And I’m not playing chicken, I’m not waiting for them to blink. I want a floating dock. TRACK: If the city does want to install a floating dock by the time bigger cruise ships get to Alaska, consultants say engineering work needs to start by this fall at the latest.

Skagway’s Broadway Street on a busy cruise ship day. (Emily Files)

Tourists visiting Skagway can also take a trip just outside of town to Dyea. Local companies and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park offer activities in the area. And, the popular Chilkoot Trail starts in Dyea. The Park Service and local stakeholders are looking into whether public transportation should be expanded between Skagway and Dyea.

Dyea is an old Gold Rush-era town that has since been mostly abandoned. It’s on the outskirts of Skagway and lies within the Klondike Park.

Park superintendent Mike Tranel says they offer regular tours of the old town site.

“There’s lots of interest in spending time out there and it’s, of course, a very different experience from Skagway,” says Tranel. “So people like it in that regard, too. It’s just something different. Kind of, get away from the crowds opportunity.”

And, he says hikers are often looking for a ride to the start of the Chilkoot Trail.

“With the hikers starting out there, there’s a regular demand for people to get out there most mornings during the week,” says Tranel.

The 33-mile trail is typically a one-way trip. Hikers will often take the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad back to town.

Right now to get to Dyea you can either drive yourself, hop on a tour with a local company, or take the Dyea-Chilkoot Trail transport, a private shuttle service.

“So that’s how people get out there now,” says Tranel. “So that’s working very well. So one of the questions is do you meet the need just by expanding that type of service or is there a need for something like the smart bus? So those are all the questions that the study is looking at.”

Tranel says the conversation about expanding transportation options started about three years ago. He says at that time there was a discussion about the SMART Bus expanding service to Dyea.

“So that idea had been discussed. And then the National Park Service was interested in having regular service, scheduled and with a published fare so that a visitor could come into the visitor center and ask about ‘how do I get to Dyea?’ and we could refer them to one provider,” says Tranel.

He says Parks has access to federal transportation funding. And that’s where the feasibility study comes in. They’re trying to figure out what the level of demand is.

“And to attempt to provide some additional ideas about how low-cost public transportation could be provided to growing numbers of visitors going out to Dyea,” says Tranel.

The Park is contracting with the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to complete the feasibility study. They’ve been working with the park to gather input from stakeholders.

They held and attended a couple of meetings at the beginning of August.

Tranel says it’s important to point out that the idea is still in the exploratory phase.

“It’s very important to emphasize that it’s a feasibility study so just determining whether public transportation, additional public transportation is feasible or not,” says Tranel. “And if it is feasible, provide some ideas on how it can be provided. It’s not implementing anything or proposing a specific type of transportation that we’re required to provide or anything like that. It’s just a recommendation on whether or not it’s feasible.”

He says the study could determine it’s not feasible at all. The study is expected to be completed in Spring 2018.