By DAN FOX
Work on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Skagway and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad continues, with the municipality’s negotiating team looking to meet again with the railroad to discuss the document.
At the Borough Assembly meeting on Aug. 17, the assembly voted 6-0 to release Borough Attorney Bob Blasco’s comments on the MOU.
According to Assembly Member Tim Cochran, Blasco’s comments include protections for the municipality, including ones covering concerns should White Pass be sold.
TWC Enterprises Limited, the company that owns the railroad, announced plans in July to conduct a review of White Pass. That review could include a sale of a portion of, or the entire, railroad.
“If the railroad was sold, we need to protect our asset as to not be being monopolized by a third party,” Cochran said.
In the evening’s deliberation of the issue, assembly members brought up another topic that has been heavily discussed at recent meetings – the position of cruise terminal operator.
“This is a very complicated and fluidly-defined concept,” Assembly Member Orion Hanson said. “In looking forward to the future, to say this candidly, I think the major fear that we have as a municipality is that this gets sold to a cruise ship company, who then would have a monopoly. And I think the major fear that I see is that one cruise ship company could restrict or overcharge another cruise ship from docking.”
Hanson said he thinks there could be something the municipality could put in its code that would ensure fair-market berthing across all the docks in the port.
“I think this is something that is really critical looking in the future,” Hanson said. “It’s also something I think that, from discussions with our attorney and other people, if we tie this to code it doesn’t really matter who owns White Pass, it doesn’t really matter who the cruise terminal operator is, as long as it’s fair going forward.”
Assembly Member Monica Carlson said she thinks Skagway could also set up a commission that would set the schedule for the docks.
The negotiating team plans on meeting with White Pass on the MOU before coming back before the assembly to move the matter forward.
The MOU lays out a number of ground rules for proceeding. One of these, in the section dedicated to amending the current lease, states that the successful execution of the section dealing with remediation in the Ore Terminal Basin is a condition precedent to the municipality entering into a new lease with White Pass.
“I don’t think I’d be speaking out of school to say this, but I think we want to see assurances that – if the remediation is not followed through [on] – we don’t want to agree to a new lease,” Hanson said at one point during the Aug. 17 meeting. “I think that is our endgame, more or less, that’s our nonstarter.”
In addition to being in the current lease amendment, Assembly Member Spencer Morgan said he wants an item in any new agreement saying that a new lease would not take effect until that cleanup is complete. Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. successfully motioned to add such wording to the MOU, under the section pertaining to a new lease agreement.
“I think it’s important to make sure all the ducks are lined up, legally,” Morgan said.