By DAN FOX
Skagway’s port consultant Moffatt & Nichol held a second round of community work sessions on Feb. 28 and March 1. The dual meetings were equal-parts presentation and Q&A between residents and the consultants on the future of Skagway’s port.
The first section of each session was devoted to a discussion on main issues and ideas focused around the waterfront. Scott Lagueux and Shaun McFarlane from Moffatt & Nichol pointed out some of the potential challenges that they saw – such as the contamination in the ore dock basin and the constricted space between the ore and Broadway docks – then opened the floor to hear some of the residents’ suggestions and concerns.
Topics raised by residents/business owners included:
• Concerns on tourist traffic flow
• Inadequate wayfinding/welcoming signage
• Summertime congestion at the Alaska/Canada border
Following the first part of the meeting, McFarlane and Lagueux launched into a short presentation about the mining and cruise ship markets, looking at the trends of each industry.
Lagueux said several of the main cruise lines are mainly investing in ships with larger passenger capacity. From all the cruise lines combined, there are 83 new vessels currently on order.
“That represents $55 billion, almost $60 billion dollars worth of investment and infrastructure,” Lagueux said. “It’s a huge commitment.”
Moffatt & Nichol has only begun its research into the mining market, according to McFarlane, and getting information pertaining to that industry may be a little more difficult.
“We do recognize that supporting the mining industry…is important to Skagway, it’s important from your roots in the gold rush,” McFarlane said. “And there is a market for it in the future.”
The final segment of the presentation focused on nine concept designs for Skagway’s port. These ranged from one proposal suggesting only small changes to concepts that separated the cruise and mining industries to opposite sides of the port.
The first concept presented did not feature many alterations aside from general upgrades near the waterfront to help guide and funnel tourists into the appropriate places.
This plan could have ramifications down the line, however, given the increasing size of the cruise ships seeking ports.
“You’re now a destination that has a competitive advantage, given your upland offer,” Lagueux said. “Without larger berths, you are at a competitive disadvantage with your peers – Juneau and Ketchikan – and that means that the Icy Straits and Haines and the others could potentially meet the market where you’re not able to.”
The preliminary concepts put forward have a fair amount of variation in regards to docking the different cruise ships in Skagway’s port, but not many changes are currently suggested to the ore docks.
“If you look at who the primary tenants are that are occupying the majority of real estate on the water’s edge, it’s the cruise ships,” Lagueux said. “So making sure that we fundamentally get those correct, get those sort of sorted out, that then creates the opportunities to go back and then really study where the cargo vessels can go.”
Lagueux said Moffatt & Nichol also needs to dig deeper into how the cleanup would occur, and what that means for the ore dock.
“Because as soon as you touch the ore dock, you’re touching the contamination,” Lagueux said.
Several of these concepts proposed moving the dock for the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry, however at a Port Steering Committee meeting on March 1, Mayor Mark Schaefer cautioned against that direction of thinking.
Schaefer had recently met with the Department of Transportation, and said DOT’s first question to him was what Skagway wants to do with the ferry dock, and what it is asking for.
“You look at our record of requests from the state…we’ve been amazingly consistent in our requests to the state,” Schaefer said. Skagway’s request has been asking for the ferry terminal to be replaced rather than renovated, according to the mayor.
“I’ll tell you right now, in my opinion, that if we start to vacillate on our positions, we’re going to throw a monkey wrench into the ferry terminal, and probably nothing is going to happen that we want to happen,” Schaefer said.
Moving forward, Moffatt & Nichol will continue to hold stakeholder meetings, and begin to look at several of the conceptual designs in a more detailed way. This includes doing initial costing, looking at the environmental cleanup and seeing how the pieces could fit together in a way that makes sense for Skagway.