On Oct. 7, voters will cast their vote on the highly-anticipated and contention Tidelands lease between the Municipality of Skagway and the White Pass and Yukon Route railway. Below are opinions from both sides of the lease – why would should vote it in and why you shouldn’t – as told from two assemblymen.

See here for questions and answers from Mayoral and Assembly Candidates.

VOTING AGAINST THE LEASE
By Assemblyman Gary Hanson

In its 115 years of existence, the City of Skagway has not had control of its own waterfront.  As a result, we have never known what the benefits of local control might mean.  I believe that when the current 55-year lease expires in 2023, it will be time for “we the people” to take ownership of our port.  But we cannot fulfill our destiny unless we vote this lease proposal down.

Why is local ownership of the port so important?  For the first time we will enjoy unfettered ability to determine what happens on our waterfront.  We will collect the revenue the port brings in and use it for development of our port as well as other needed civic projects.  By keeping the port funds here, Skagway will be able to develop port infrastructure, and perform maintenance that will keep our port viable and provide a safe place for our citizens to work.   Under local ownership, the port will always welcome the cruise ships and offer them a safe and secure berth, but we will have the capability to serve freight and commodity customers that want to ship through the port of Skagway.

White Pass has failed miserably on the Ore Dock maintenance. The company history of environmental disasters is well documented.  As the initial owners of the Ore Terminal, they allowed our harbor, as well as our uplands to become contaminated.  Providing a safe infrastructure is a basic function of your government.  The advantage of municipal ownership is that the docks would be modernized and made safe while creating an environment where private enterprise can thrive.  All this would happen without an increase in taxes: the docks will pay for themselves.  Keep in mind, we qualify for CPV funds from the State which can also be used for expansion and repair.

Using the recent passenger count figures used by the municipality in their revenue projections, the cruise ship passenger count on the Broadway and Ore docks average 291,000 people per year.  At $8.50 a head, White Pass would rake in $87 million over the 35-year term of the proposed lease.   And, with the bigger ships arriving soon, those figures look to be going up.  Once those docks become property of “we the people” in 2023, that kind of revenue stays here.

Let’s vote this lease proposal down and start planning now for 2023.  The future of our port and the revenue it generates will be in our hands.  Let’s do what is right for Skagway!

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VOTING FOR THE LEASE
By Assemblyman Dan Henry

First and foremost, all the components of the lease, which are in the MOU, were developed and agreed upon by all six assembly members. Those same six assembly members then had a motion passed unanimously (including Assemblyman Hanson), see minutes of Jan. 2, 2014. So the assembly UNANIMOUSLY developed and agreed to all the terms of the MOU, which then, with legal language added, becomes the lease. That brings us to now – yes or no vote.

A no vote has a string of consequences, which are as follows: no site control to build out the Gateway Project, no Gateway, no remediation done in a timely and efficient manner, as per ADEC. ADEC has told us that if we proceed with our current plan AND TIME TABLE 2015/2016, we would be okay. NO Gateway, no remediation. That will bring years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, which under Alaska State law, we would be unable to recoup, even if we prevailed. The EPA and ADEC are not concerned with “who is or is not responsible for the contamination.” All they care about is that it gets cleaned up. They will give us the bill if they have to come in and do it themselves. That is because they will start with the land owner and let us try and sort it out – who should pay what. And seven or eight years later, after appeals and everything else that goes along with bringing multiple businesses to court, the original lease will be up, and we can give WP&YR somewhere around $40 million for the docks. While all of that is going on, there will be no economic diversification with year round jobs having been created. There will be no floating dock to accommodate the larger vessels wanting to come here. They will be in Hoonah or Haines. There will be no revenue stream from the Ore Terminal. They will have gone elsewhere. Or……….

A yes vote would keep us on track to clean up the ore basin in an efficient, less costly manner. The cost is $4.5 million (check engineer report: $2 million from White Pass, $1.5 million from the legislature and $1 million from MOS – done, over. A yes vote gives us site control to do this important work. A yes vote indemnifies us going into the future for any environmental problems that may occur and covers any legacy contamination that may be left. We are covered. That is HUGE! A yes vote allows us to try and diversify our economy. A yes vote has us building out the Gateway Project, thereby enabling us to accommodate the largest vessels in the cruise ship industry, keeping Skagway in its rightful spot as one of the most desired ports. A yes vote gives us 90% of the tidelands to help shape our future. A yes vote gives us an appropriate revenue stream that increases as we move forward.

So, the ore basin is cleaned up; the Gateway Project is completed; we diversify our economy; increase our revenue as we do what is appropriate for the government- facilitate business, not compete with it. We polish the apple and grow all business in Skagway. A yes vote gets us moving with a big head of steam into a bright future. None of us can fix the past, no matter how much we shake our finger, but each of us can choose to be a part of the problem (as in the past), or we can be part of the solution, one vote at a time. Vote no and remain stuck in the past. Vote yes, and we all share a bright future. Your choice.