By DAN FOX
A casual glance may not reveal it, but something big has changed at Skagway’s waterfront. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad has officially been sold to a joint venture including Ketchikan-based Survey Point Holdings and the Carnival Corporation & plc for proceeds of $290,000,000 as of July 31.
The sale was for all rail and port operations based out of Skagway.
“This is a special day for the Municipality of Skagway,” Former Mayor Tim Bourcy said at the Aug. 2 Borough Assembly meeting. “I would like to ask the municipality to consider doing something for White Pass, the past owner, as a sign of appreciation for the last 120 years of success that we have had, I think that would be appropriate…and on the other side, it’s a new day.
“It’s an opportunity for us to set aside everything that has happened over the last 100 years, and map a new future.”
Bourcy said that the newly-christened White Pass President Bob Berto (who comes from Survey Point Holdings, subsidiaries of which are Southeast Stevedoring, Cruise Lines Agencies of Alaska and Temsco) has been “invested in Skagway for a long time,” and that Skagway now has the ability to build up its port, making it more effective “not only for visitors, but for fuel, for freight and for any transshipment that comes through this port.”
That sort of build-out will be expensive, Bourcy said, and in his opinion will require Skagway, the new White Pass owners and other waterfront entities like Alaska Marine Lines and Petro Marine Services to have “skin in the game.”
“What exists in the port today is not going to be acceptable in the future,” Bourcy said.
Berto spoke to the assembly at that Aug. 2 meeting as well.
“I appreciate the comments that I’m hearing here tonight of issues that need to be dealt with, we totally agree with that, we’ve grown up here in Alaska, we understand the issues, we deal with them every day, everywhere,” Berto said. “But they are problems we have to solve, and we have to solve them together.”
Berto had drafted a letter to the assembly prior to the meeting, which went over a large number of topics, including improvements needed for railroad infrastructure and construction of a floating component at the Ore Dock needed to accommodate larger cruise ships.
“So far this work has been stymied by the looming expiration of the White Pass lease with the MOS (Municipality of Skagway), and the inability to reach agreement on how to move forward,” Berto’s letter stated.
The letter also addressed the issue of contamination in the Ore Terminal Basin.
“As a key part of our work with the MOS, we will address the environmental remediation of damage caused by past ore loading operations in a manner which brings resolution to the process with ADEC (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation) and the MOS, and causes the least amount of further damage and issues,” the letter stated. “This is a challenge and obligation we assume in purchasing White Pass, and an obligation we don’t take lightly.”
On Aug. 2, after an executive session, the assembly voted to direct staff to order an appraisal of the tidelands lease area currently under lease by White Pass through 2023. The motion passed 6-0. The assembly also voted on a motion to draft a request for information over the tidelands area as well, with a roll call of 5-1, with Assembly Member Orion Hanson against.