By JEFF BRADY
Before I make up my mind on whether to vote up or down the new tidelands lease with White Pass, I want some questions answered. These questions were being asked during much of the entire 10-year process leading up to this moment, but no one was willing to answer them openly and truthfully because the negotiations were behind closed doors and there was fear of either tipping off or ticking off the other side.
In presenting the ordinance and lease document to the public, the message to the voters so far seems to be, “just vote it up or down. Tell us if you like it or not.”
Well, that’s not good enough. For me and the other independent-minded voters in the community – and that’s just about everyone – we want answers and we want them at the series of public meetings being held before the Aug. 25 special election. We want answers from the Assembly and its negotiating team, and we also want answers from White Pass. If you are asking us to approve something so big in our history, then you had better start talking and addressing these questions:
1. For the assembly: If this lease is as good as you could get out of White Pass, what else were you trying to get and could not achieve? And tell us why, please. I’m asking you to open up here. This, more than any other answer, is going to be a key to how I vote. You can start with questions 2 and 3.
2. For the Assembly: For example, did you try to talk White Pass into paying more, say half, of the ore basin mitigation costs, rather than the flat $2 million that they offered (based on a phone call estimate) and is now in the proposed lease?
3. For White Pass, why would you not agree to pay more or less of your share of the cost of mitigation if the true costs (not estimates) are higher or lower? Where do you draw the responsibility line in this case? You paid $6 million for all of the uplands cleanup in 1989, much of which was on city and state property. How is this different? The city is owning up to some responsibility as owner, so why not pay half, whatever it is?
4. For both parties. What is the big deal about indemnification? How is this release by White Pass going to prevent a lawsuit directed at the land owner when we all know that anybody can sue for anything. All it may take is someone dying from eating a mussel. We’ve been lucky so far.
5. For White Pass, why are you so stuck on needing revenue from a fourth cruise ship berth? This fourth berth (along with Broadway Dock) has been gravy for you since you got out of the ore and freight business. Isn’t it time that you concede that having the Railroad and Broadway Dock revenue is good enough, and let the municipality, through an open market, bid out that quarter of the pie? And please recognize that it was the work of this community to attract more cruise ships during the railroad shutdown of the mid-1980s that has allowed you to reopen the railroad and profit wonderfully from this fourth berth. Maybe it is time for you to say thank you and give something back (see next question).
6. For both parties: During the very early stages of Gateway, the mantra was all about the “Skagway Advantage” – our geography and easy route to the mines, but also that there needed to be an open port in Skagway, meaning that the docks should no longer be under control of one company. This lease returns the uplands to the municipality, but the docks are still being leased to a private company that controls all the other docks. How can such an arrangement (even with half of the dock reserved for industrial use) change the perception out there of shippers looking for a “Skagway Advantage”?
7. For White Pass: Where is your chairman of the board and majority stockholder and why does he not come to Skagway and meet with his employees and the community that he is asking so much of? Really, Mr. Sahi, please come. I’m no longer a newspaper editor anymore, I’ll even buy lunch. If I owned a company with so many ties to a community (which I do, by the way), then I would get there at least once a year to check in and make sure it was all running smoothly (which I do, by the way). This would go a long way to improving relations with your Skagway community. Come here, meet with us.
8. Finally, for everyone, what happens if this lease fails? Will you go back to the table? Will you, as I have been hammering you about in editorials for years, open up the process more and let the community in? Or will you just throw your hands up and wait out the current lease until 2023? In other words, what’s your plan? Surely you have discussed this, because it is a very real option if a lot the questions above are not answered truthfully and openly.
– W. Jeff Brady, editor emeritus
PS – I wrote this before first meeting on July 17, which I could not attend, but hopefully some of the above questions were answered then and more will be answered in subsequent meetings.