The Skagway Assembly voted unanimously to approve an amended priority list for capital improvement projects during a regular meeting January 19.

The installation of new utilities on State Street prior to repaving by the state Department of Transportation was deemed top priority.

Replacing the existing state ferry dock with a new float capable of bow-loading Alaska Class ferries was chosen as priority two.

The list, which the state legislature uses in deciding what capital improvement projects to fund, didn’t initially contain any language regarding the ferry dock. This is because the float, and its repair or replacement, is already a budgeted state improvement project and therefore does not require the request of any funds by the municipality.

The assembly decided to add the project, with a zero-ask for funding, following public commentary from Skagway resident and business owner, Jan Wrentmore.

Wrentmore stated that she believes construction of a new ferry dock, rather than repairing and retrofitting the existing structure, to be the most beneficial course of action for Skagway.

A new float, specifically outfitted to receive the bow-loading ferries that will eventually serve Southeast Alaska, would allow for efficient loading and unloading, which would decrease turnaround times and improve overall ferry service to Skagway, she explained.

She also said it was her understanding that a new dock could potentially be built elsewhere and towed into place, minimizing the amount of time Skagway would be without ferry service.

She encouraged assembly members to be proactive in expressing the desire to replace rather than repair to the state and suggested that it be added to the list of capital projects to “keep it in the face” of legislators.

After an extended discussion on the subject, Assemblyman Orion Hanson moved that “ferry dock replacement with bow-loading capabilities” be made capital improvement priority number one.

“These new ferries are going to be the ones predominantly serving Skagway,” he said. “This might really be our chance to put this at the front of our legislature… Our ferry dock sank. Let’s not just fix it and repaint it.”

The rest of the assembly agreed that the item should be added to capital improvements, but several members worried that placing it as top priority might decrease the chance of receiving funding for other projects, particularly the State Street utility replacement, during a state budget crunch.

“We don’t have money for State Street utilities,” said Assemblyman Tim Cochran. “They [DOT] are going to repave State Street no matter what. Utility replacement is on us.”

“State Street has been foisted upon us and is not an option,” agreed Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. “Repaving without an upgrade on utilities is not an option.”

Ultimately, the assembly voted unanimously to maintain State Street utility urgrades as top priority, add the ferry dock replacement as second priority, and move the construction of a Seven Pastures Recreation Area flood dike, installation of utilities for the new solid waste/recycling/public works facility, and the senior center/housing project to priorities three through five, respectively. – DS