On Oct. 2, Skagway’s citizens will have the chance to elect candidates to the two Borough Assembly seats, as well as two seats on the Skagway School Board.
The Skagway News contacted the candidates over several key issues that newly-elected representatives will face as they take office.
Their responses are in alphabetical order by last name, with incumbents denoted with an *.
Additionally, a forum for the Borough Assembly candidates will be held at 6 p.m. on Sept. 24 at AB Hall, co-hosted by KHNS and The Skagway News.
Questions for the candidates can be emailed to email@example.com
Borough Assembly – Two open seats
1. Do you support a Recreation Center expansion including a pool component, just an expansion to the Recreation Center or no expansion at all? Explain the need – or lack of a need if you are against an expansion – for such a development.
2. Regarding the waterfront, how would you proceed if elected? Where are the borough’s strengths regarding its current position, and how would you want it to move forward with the new White Pass owners?
3. Beyond direct port issues, what improvements do you believe are necessary for Skagway?
Jay L. Burnham*
1. I’m sure everyone knows I am for the Rec Center expansion including an aquatic wellness center. I believe part of the reason I was initially elected was my support of a Rec Center expansion. The questions on the ballot are there to gauge what kind of support the expansion has in the community. There are some big numbers following the different options of the expansion, I believe those numbers are at the high-end of the spectrum. I would recommend that an expansion be done in phases, the first being construction-ready plans of the complete project and upgrades to the existing facility.
With construction-ready plans we could apply for grants and solicit funding and donations from other entities, lessening the overall cost to the community and taxpayers.
Second phase, the Rec Center expansion including the administrative core. Third phase, the aquatic wellness center. As far as need for an expansion and aquatic wellness center most people have heard the social, economic and health benefits of having a pool. To touch on a few: a safe environment for children to learn to swim, fire department rescue training, rehabilitation after injuries, low impact exercise for the elderly, an economic benefit would be swim clubs, with children of all ages, coming to Skagway multiple times a year for competitions.
2. I see the waterfront as a place many things have to happen quickly. If elected my priority would be the dredging of the Ore Basin to remove all the metal ores that have been deposited/spilled. With the contamination removed, the MOS would begin with a clean slate. After remediation, the next step would be to facilitate a floating component at the Ore Dock. That would involve some sort of agreement with White Pass. There are many different ways that could take shape. I would like to see an arrangement that would allow the municipality to have full ownership of the floating component after 2023.
Some of the borough strengths… we own the land. We have a war chest of grants and CPV money that could aid us in dredging and installing a floating dock. I also hope another benefit to the municipality would be the new owners willingness to work with us to achieve that floating component, benefiting all parties.
3. As far as improvements, Skagway has a long list of projects. Beyond direct port issues, I would list necessary improvements as, moving forward on the Public Works building on the “15 acres”, which would include the composter, having access to more land for purchase, replacement of the ferry float (I will classify that as an indirect port issue). Also important would be the State Street project, water and sewer across the bridge and finding/deciding on areas to put additional RV parking. In closing I would like to add if you have any questions about my replies, or any questions for me, please feel free to call me or stop me on the street.
Steve Burnham Jr.*
1. Skagway needs efficient and safe fitness facilities, so I support expanding our Recreation Center. I believe the operational costs would not increase much compared to our current facility, and we can accommodate the construction costs in a responsible manner.
However, considering that the current recreation center requires a $400,000 annual subsidy, to add in the operations and maintenance of a 10,000-sqare foot pool facility (estimated to be an additional $335,000 annual subsidy*) is not responsible. The suggestion that an additional one percent sales tax increase could pay for the construction, operations and maintenance of a pool is not fair to all Skagway taxpayers – that increase would dedicate nearly 1/6th of our sales tax revenue solely to a pool.
* Mick & Sue Nelson, USA Swimming, An Enterprise Plan for Skagway Health and Wellness Aquatic Center, April 2016
2. In conjunction with dredging and remediation, a floating dock must be constructed near the south end of the current Ore Dock – whether built by White Pass, the municipality or a joint venture, it will be undertaken and completed. With a new lease to White Pass off the table, the municipality should be setting the stage for an increased waterfront presence.
Along with arrival of the larger cruise vessels to Skagway, it is not only necessary to develop dock infrastructure, but we must also commit to substantial improvements to the uplands. With the increases in visitation we need to invest in more restrooms, signage, pedestrian pathways, bus and shuttle staging and so on.
It is also likely that with changes to local leadership and citizenry, along with the push-pull of Yukon mining, a return of ore transport is inevitable; I will continue to push to see stronger environmental and safety regulations enacted to help ensure that contamination doesn’t reoccur on our waterfront, and for increased oversight on operators and companies that bring commodities through Skagway. It makes little sense to encourage or collaborate on an Ore Basin remediation project if we cannot prevent future contamination.
3. An in-vessel compost facility is currently in the pre-construction phase. By composting food waste Skagway could potentially convert a third of its total garbage into a usable soil component; no need to incinerate or ship it out. Our incinerator is aging, and removing wet food-stuff from its maw will only extend its useful life. After the compost facility is complete, I hope to work with Public Works staff to further divert recyclables away from the incinerator.
We need to encourage housing efficiencies and new development within the current townsite before prioritizing community expansion; I don’t support moving forward with the proposed Denver Valley townsite plan, I see that as a billion dollar misstep.
The State Street rebuild is still anticipated, but we also need to begin planning for a comprehensive Main Street reconstruction, as the underlying water and sewer infrastructure need updating.
Roger W. Griffin
The mayor and assembly have made difficult decisions that set Skagway on the path toward independence and self-determination. It’s not been easy.
I am grateful for their efforts.
As for the questions posed by The Skagway News, Skagway is facing a variety of near term financial challenges. Choosing what to fund comes down to a question of wants versus needs.
The lead and mercury contamination in the Ore Dock Basin must be remediated. Skagway is the land owner and, while White Pass is responsible for remediation costs, Skagway may end up bearing some of the costs, which could range from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars.
It has been, and continues to be, my position that until a framework for the remediation of the Ore Basin pollution is in place, the city should not embark upon discretionary projects that entail considerable cost.
Cleaning up the contamination in the Ore Basin is a need, not a want.
With the arrival of the Norwegian Bliss, Skagway’s infrastructure is stretched to capacity. Some examples: The water treatment (sewage) plant is operating near capacity. The incinerator is near capacity. The restrooms on the Railroad Dock are inadequate for the intense use they are receiving. 911 ambulance calls are going unanswered. With increased investment by tour operators in marine equipment, the Small Boat Harbor is unable to meet the demands being placed upon it. Sewage and potable water must be extended to the west side of the Skagway River.
These are needs, not wants.
There is a means to address these needs, as well as provide for the “wants” some in the community seek and that is through the management of our waterfront before and after the White Pass lease expires in 2023. The waterfront, namely the tidelands on which the Ore and Broadway docks are located, belong to the Municipality of Skagway, and therefore the citizens of Skagway. This is OUR resource. It is a valuable resource. It is for us, the Municipality of Skagway, through your elected officials, to manage this resource in such a manner that it will allow Skagway, as a community, to realize its fullest potential.
This I believe, and this is why, for the past five years, I have strenuously opposed past efforts to dispose of our waterfront at less than its full value. Likewise, with the same vigor I have opposed efforts that would have saddled Skagway with open-ended financial obligations related to the remediation of lead and mercury contamination in the Ore Dock Basin.
In the past I have favored the creation of a Port Authority as a means to achieve some of these objectives. There may be other means that may prove to be more effective, and these must be entertained as well. Consequently, the shape of a future means to manage the port is uncertain. What is certain is how I will evaluate any future proposal. Here are my criteria:
• The port must be managed for the benefit of the community, by the community.
• The lead and mercury contamination in the Ore Dock Basin must be cleaned up.
• The community must receive market value for the use of its port.
• The port must be available for short term industrial uses.
• The port must accommodate regional transportation needs.
• A single commercial entity cannot be allowed to monopolize usage of the port.
School Board – Two open seats
1. Describe your position on a Vocational Education Building, and how you would facilitate the project. If against the project, what are your concerns with it?
2. Skagway’s School District is ranked well in the state, but where do you see potential for improvement?
3. What issues are most important to you regarding the operation of the School District? How will you work on these if elected?
1. I am strongly in support of a new Vocational Education Building for the Skagway School District. A goal of mine on the board is to continue to work with the Municipality, local businesses and other agencies to make a new vocational education building a reality.
There is a great need in Skagway, in Alaska and in our country for those in vocational and technical fields. Building a new vocational educational building would go a long way to strengthening our existing vocational education program and offer more opportunities to those students who want to pursue carpentry, mechanics, welding and electrical work.
2. The district did achieve the highest performances on the statewide PEAKS assessment in Alaska. I am very proud of all the hard work by students, parents, teachers and our administration to achieve those scores, but we can do better. There are still students who did not receive proficient or advanced scores in English and mathematics. My top priority is to explore how the board can support those students who are not achieving in those areas. As a board member, I will look at what areas of the district that need to be strengthened through the budgetary process, curriculum review, and through policy that can support students, parents and teachers in helping those students who may be struggling in English and mathematics. I truly feel we are not a success unless we have 100 percent of our students at that proficient or advanced level.
3. My top priorities for the operation of the school district are increasing achievement in student learning, creating a safe and welcoming environment for students, teachers and parents, and advocating for reliable and adequate educational funding at the state level.
Student learning and helping young people become responsible adults is why I ran for School Board in the first place.
As a School Board member I will continue to look for ways to support our district in increasing student achievement through advocating for and providing adequate resources to the teachers to continue to teach at a high level.
I will also continue to look at strengthening policies that contribute to student learning and changing those policies that get in the way of student learning.
A positive school culture is also important to learning. I believe that every student, teacher and parent deserves to feel safe and welcomed at the school.
As a board member I will continue to look for ways to facilitate that safe and welcoming environment through support of anti-bullying measures already put in place by the Superintendent.
I will also work with the superintendent and fellow School Board members in looking at policies that create and maintain a positive school culture centered on respectful and compassionate behavior between students, parents, teachers and staff.
On the state level, I would like to focus on working with our legislative representatives on continued forward funding of education past next year.
It is difficult to make a budget and negotiate with the teacher’s union when we don’t know what the funding from the state is going to be. One of the most important aspects of being on the board to me is being a good steward of the people’s money.
Knowing what the funding from the state is makes it easier to ensure that every penny goes to improving education for the students of the Skagway School District.
1. I am 100 percent on board with the Vocational Education Building and I would help facilitate the project in any way necessary. I believe there is a huge benefit by providing specialized education geared towards future careers right here in Skagway.
2. I’m so proud to say I live in such a wonderful town where the school is ranked so well in the state, it’s one of the main reasons we decided to stay here and make Skagway our home. I feel like the school is always looking for ways to improve in many different aspects, there isn’t anything specifically that stands out to me at this moment.
3. One of the most important issues I feel is our kids feeling safe when they walk into the school. That they are surrounded by staff and classmates who care about their education and their wellbeing in general.
I want to make sure our school is educating our kids not only to prepare them for college, but for real-life situations. I think that the board is already working on both of these issues and I would like to be part of the common goal of making the Skagway School District the best it can possibly be.