By Leigh Armstrong
The Skagway Borough assembly decided Feb. 7 not to present voters with an advisory question next month on whether the municipality should add a floating dock to accommodate passengers from larger cruise ships at the ore terminal dock.
The resolution would have been placed on the March 19 special election ballot.
Assemblymember Orion Hanson introduced the resolution for the ballot question: “Do you support the expenditure of municipal funds, including Commercial Passenger Vessel (CPV) excise tax funds, state grants, existing bonds, and any other fees the Municipality may elect to create by ordinance, to build a floating dock at the south end of the Ore Dock, which will likely cost at least $36,000,000?”
The resolution was open for public hearing at the Feb. 7 assembly meeting.
Former Skagway mayor Tim Bourcy said putting the question on the ballot would be highly detrimental to the community.
“First and foremost, in regard to where we’re at, this is a little cart before the horse,” Bourcy said.
The passenger taxes are regulated by law and how the money is spent is governed by those laws rather than going to voters for spending decisions, Bourcy said.
In addition, the vote could fail, and then what, he said. “You put a $36 million request before the public, in this community after the public safety building, the pool twice and the senior center, you are going to lose. The ramifications of this loss will affect the community for decades,” Bourcy said.
If the floating dock loses on the ballot, there would be something on record that shows Skagway doesn’t want to spend money on its docks, which would not be helpful, he said.
“I understand what you’re getting at, but this is not the right time, it’s not the right resolution and it needs to die,”Bourcy said.
Other members of the public in attendance encouraged the borough form a work group with White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad on options to accommodate larger cruise ships in town.
Assemblymember Dan Henry agreed with Bourcy’s comments and said there are too many issues with the ordinance, especially the uncertainty over the cost of the project.
“I think I understand the motive and the direction where this was going, but this is just not the vehicle,” Henry said.
Assemblymember Dave Brena pointed out the community relies on ballot questions to be well researched and consider all viewpoints. The floating dock is only one part of a much bigger issue, he said.
“The question is not clear to me, and I don’t think it’s clear to anyone on the assembly, so I wonder how the public could make an informed decision on this issue,” Brena said.
He said the issues require more thought by the assembly before going to voters.
Assemblymember Jay Burnham, who had previously talked with Hanson about the ballot question, said the proposal is an opportunity to gauge the community’s support to add a floating dock at the ore terminal dock.
“The wording may not be correct, the timing may not be correct, but if you look at it from a 10,000-foot view, it’s basically asking the community if they’re willing to move forward with a floating dock,” Burnham said.
Though Burnham said he supports asking the public’s opinion, he had decided not to put the question on the ballot at this time.
Hanson said the proposal for a ballot question came from his frustration at the lack of assembly action on the dock.
“What I really want to see is for us to get off the stump, collectively, and bargain here because I honestly believe our window is closing,” Hanson said.
Hoonah has already built two docks, and Skagway is at risk of losing money if it does not take steps to accommodate the larger cruise ships.
“I’ll eat every one of these words because I wrote them, but I don’t regret it. I think that this galvanizes us as a wake-up, because we aren’t doing anything here at all,” Hanson said.
Hanson said the municipality needs to take action before 2023, when its lease with White Pass expires.