Talk of Skagway waterfront permeates discussion on pool project, rec center

By DAN FOX
EDITOR

A move to poll the residents of Skagway about their feelings on a Recreation Center expansion and aquatic wellness center failed to pass the muster of the Borough Assembly on Aug. 17.
The resolution, which would have put two questions on the Oct. 3 ballot, received two votes in favor, with the other four against. Assembly members Jay Burnham and Orion Hanson voted in favor.

The two questions were: “Do you support the Municipality to find funding to finance a Recreation Center Expansion Project?” and “Do you support the Municipality to find funding to finance a Recreation Center Expansion Project to include the Aquatic Wellness Facility?”

During public comments, resident Mavis Henricksen said the wording of the ballot items implied that the municipality could afford the pool project.

She added that the assembly members are elected to make such decisions, that they “have the figures and the knowledge to know that we are overextending ourselves.”

Resident Wayne Selmer said he thought the questions should include the estimated costs of each project.

“Because I think if you don’t put those two things in there, the people won’t have any clue what they are going to be voting on,” Selmer said.

As the assembly discussed the resolution, Burnham said though the project is an expensive one, there is never going to be a “right time” to do the project.

“There will never be a time that we have $20 million just sitting around to just buy one [a pool],” Burnham said. He added that the resolution would simply poll the town, and did not commit the municipality to actually funding the project.

“I’ve heard from the seven or eight people that always come up here – which, thanks for coming to the meetings, thanks for voicing your opinions, your concerns – and I’ve heard from them every time something comes up about the rec center expansion, including the pool,” Burnham said. “And there’s 700 of us in this town…so I see this as a way to gauge whether or not the people of this town would like to direct us to look into getting a pool, expanding the rec center.”

The project would be one for the future, according to Burnham, as the municipality currently has “big fish to fry” regarding remediation and other issues in Skagway’s waterfront.

Those big fish in the waterfront – including the borough’s efforts to accommodate larger classes of cruise ships in the coming years to maintain and improve municipal revenues – were talked about by other assembly members.

“We can’t afford it [a pool], right now,” Assembly Member Tim Cochran said. “A lot of energy is being exerted on this waterfront to try and get our waterfront in order, and a lot of these revenue streams that will become ours post-2023, we can start retiring some of our debt.

“It’s like having a mortgage and wanting to buy a Porsche. It’d be nice to have, but you can’t afford it, and that’s where we are right now.”

Assembly Member Monica Carlson said that running questions like those proposed could give voters a “false sense of hope.”

Hanson – who has urged fiscal responsibility on the subject of a pool in previous discussions – supported the resolution when the vote came.

Hanson said the two questions’ language held no financial obligations and proposed no timeline for the project.

“I agree completely, fiscally this is not the time to do it – I do very much believe we live beyond our means,” Hanson said. “However, I also sat through the whole fifth-grade filibuster in here.

“There has been a tremendous outcry, I think, from the town as well, and one thing I do believe very strongly is that the ability of people to voice their concerns through the ballot is very, very important.”