Skagway’s Borough Assembly spoke in circles about a response letter to White Pass & Yukon Route railway on March 17, shuffling back and forth between “yes” and “no” and “could have” and “should have” in an act that would have made the great William Shakespeare proud.
Some said much ado about nothing, while others tried to make sense of it all. In the end, all was once as it had been: going quickly to nowhere at all.
The ore basin is still contaminated; White Pass still owns the docks; the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority won’t give up its ship loader.
It’s an Alaskan standoff with no end in sight.
Letters have been sent from the Municipality of Skagway to White Pass, back to the municipality, back to White Pass and so on, in an attempt to move forward with improvements to the Port of Skagway. But the response from both sides has been slow moving with the municipality seeking assistance from White Pass and White Pass seeking direction from the municipality.
In its most recent letter, the municipality asked for help in remediating the ore basin and outlined possible options for doing so. On March 15, White Pass responded by stating its desire to cooperate with not only the municipality on the remediation, but with AIDEA as well.
“Any remediation and/or construction in this area will require their commitment and cooperation, and as such, they must be involved in this discussion in a productive way,” the White Pass letter stated, referring to AIDEA.
Assembly members have been discussing a quick turn around for a response to White Pass, and though a letter from the municipality was drafted, borough assembly members received a copy of the letter to read only hours before their March 17 meeting. This, for many, was not enough time.
The letter, signed by Mayor Mark Schaefer, focused on the municipality’s want to clean up the basin and suggested all three entities sit down in order to find “a solution that charts a long term future for our community and your respective business interests in our community.”
But assembly members weren’t quite on board.
Assemblyman Jay Burnham asked why the municipality had decided to speak with end users like AIDEA after being advised not to by borough attorney Bob Blasco. Schaefer said that according to Blasco, talking to AIDEA was now the proper step to take.
“We might be back there sometime, Jay. But, we’re not talking about . . . the subject’s changed a little bit,” Schaefer said. “I think it’s a logical step. White Pass has been speaking to AIDEA, but they can’t resolve AIDEA’s issue, which is: is there a way to find them some time in the future so they can actually remove that ship loader?”
Assemblywoman Angela Grieser and assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. agreed that receiving the letter just hours before the meeting was not enough time to review it or make changes. But Burnham made changes just the same during a short recess three hours into the meeting.
Schaefer apologized for the letter’s late coming, and said he was trying to move the process along as quickly as possible.
Also interested in moving things along quickly was assemblyman Dan Henry, who had teleconferenced in and participated in a 22-minute rambling conversation with Skagway lobbyist John Walsh, who also attended the meeting via teleconference.
During the discussion between Henry and Walsh, assembly members sat at the table in frustrated silence, occasionally trying voice opinions.
Schaefer finally halted the banter and brought the task of sending the letter back into focus.
Jay Burnham said he was not against sending the letter, but he said the municipality shouldn’t be using its resources to determine how to fix something it didn’t do—contaminate the ore basin. He also added that AIDEA should come to the municipality with a remediation plan.
“We haven’t discussed what our end goal is,” he said. “What is a viable port? Is it one with a pipeline coming down? Is it one with a rail barge? Is it one with a moveable ship loader? Is it one with a dual berth floating dock off the ferry terminal?”
Assemblyman Tim Cochran reminded Burnham that until the basin is cleaned up, the port is stuck.
“We cannot move forward without ADEC and White Pass and the municipality on board to agree that we need to clean up that [basin],” he said.
But Grieser and Burnham brought up discussion of a proposed floating dock at the ferry terminal, which Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn said he thinks is looking viable after speaking about it with the Alaska Department of Transportation last week.
Cochran said a floating dock isn’t part of the discussion, adding that the basin still must be remediated no matter what.
Burnham Jr. then presented his White Pass response letter edits to the mayor and assembly, and they were looked on favorably.
After nearly an hour of debate, corrections, discussion and confusion, it was determined that the letter couldn’t be sent after all, and assembly members were reminded of necessary protocol required before sending a response letter such as this one.
Schaefer said he wanted to speak with Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott about the matter, send a not-yet-ready letter to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and then send the letter to White Pass. This process, he said, was recommended by Blasco.
At the end of the meeting, Assemblyman Spencer Morgan recommended a special meeting for Thursday, March 24– after this paper went to print–during which time the assembly could review the letter more thoroughly and prepare it for sending.
All’s well that ends well, but unfortunately, this act is far from over.