The state has approved a one-year extension for $7 million in grant money for the port, which was originally intended for the Gateway Project. The new deadline to use the funds is June 30, 2017, but direction remains to be seen after the failed tidelands lease last fall and subsequent suspension of the Gateway Project by the assembly.
The future of the project has been discussed extensively by the assembly and the Port Commission, who both agree that a floating dock for a larger class of cruise ships should be a top priority. But the commission continues to seek direction from the assembly, who doesn’t have much to give.
During a Jan. 27 assembly meeting, Assemblywoman Angela Grieser motioned that the commission step down until direction can be given. She said she knows their value, but thinks they should wait until there is something for them to do.
The motion resulted in a tie, with Grieser, Assemblyman Jay Burnham and Assemblyman Dan Henry voting for it and Assemblymen Steve Burnham Jr., Tim Cochran and Spencer Morgan voting against it. Mayor Mark Schaefer broke the tie with a no vote, failing the motion.
Morgan said the commission’s input is invaluable, with two former mayors and Canadian representation involved.
[quote_right]“I think he brings the most knowledgeable cruise voice to the table and is the strongest advocate to tourism in this community,” Bourcy said.[/quote_right]
“If there is any input that can come out of that, I don’t want to throw those opportunities away and put them on hold,” he said.
To help determine a direction for both the assembly and the Port Commission, assembly members agreed to hold a work session on Friday at 4 p.m., inviting the commission, Project Manager Chad Gubala and the public to attend.
While the Port Commission as a whole was scrutinized last week, it has been a point of contention with the assembly since late last year.
Port Commissioner Steve Hites received flack after speaking with Norwegian Cruise Line about the future of Skagway’s port. While some assembly members called for his resignation, members of the community came out to support Hites during a Jan. 7 meeting.
The original agenda called for discussion on Hites’ position, but was removed at the suggestion of Assemblyman Tim Cochran, who said it should not be held until an executive session could be established. All voted in favor of the removal, with the exception of Assemblywoman Angela Grieser and Assemblyman Dan Henry.
Despite the removal, community members spoke out in support of Hites, calling him an invaluable member of the commission.
Port Commission Chair Tim Bourcy said the subject put him off in general, as it should be a non-issue.
“I think he brings the most knowledgeable cruise voice to the table and is the strongest advocate to tourism in this community,” Bourcy said.
He went on to say that there is a disconnect between the assembly and municipal commissions. While the focus should be on securing the port and economy, he said, the table is focused on whether a member of a volunteer commission misspoke at a meeting.
“Obviously there is some frustration on behalf of the assembly for the Port Commission. I have not heard that voiced, I just get the feeling,” he said. “Address the commission and state the issues. We cannot be a valuable member of the boards and commissions of this community if there is not proper communication.”
Seven others echoed Bourcy’s sentiments, including former Assembly members Dave Hunz, Mike Korsmo and Gary Hanson, and former tourism director Buckwheat Donahue.
Donahue said the Port Commission is one of Skagway’s most valuable, and definitely the most productive.
While he hasn’t always agreed with Hites, Donahue said that he is invaluable to the commission and is the only person in the room that has experience with international ports, which Hites visits frequently.
“I think it’s much ado about nothing,” Donahue said. “Steve [has] made his retractions and apologies, and I really don’t think it should go any further.”
Hanson also urged that the assembly drop the issue and not bring it up again.
“Because of press reports and assembly member comments, this is bordering on becoming a defamation of character issue,” he said, requesting that the assembly move on from the issue completely.
The item was not on the Jan. 21 agenda.