Mayoral candidates Andrew Cremata and Dave Hunz introduced themselves and their views to the community at a public forum March 4.
Both talked about the need for more housing in Skagway, and how best to clean up the contaminated seafloor and manage the port for a growing cruise ship industry.
Hunz presented an option to divide up lots at the Garden City RV park to create more parcels for housing construction. In addition, there are areas on AB Ridge that could be used for housing, though they would entail higher costs, he said.
Cremata said housing comes in two problems — seasonal and year-round. “I’m sure most people in this room know there are people (summer workers) living in sheds, containers and in the woods. That can’t happen,” he said.
Cremata also said Garden City could be used for building new housing for families and seniors in Skagway.
The special election to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Monica Carlson will be held Tuesday, March 19, with the polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Carlson, and her mother Cora Louise Adams, died Dec. 19 after they were hit by a bus while crossing a street in Washington, D.C.
The forum was sponsored by The Skagway News and public radio station KHNS.
Hunz, a long-time resident of Skagway, has served on the borough assembly. Cremata became a full-time resident in 1999.
Hunz commented on the challenges younger families face in Skagway. “I’m trying to make it better for the younger generation with jobs and employment, so that they can live here,” he said.
Hunz supports construction of the senior citizens center that was approved by voters in a narrow four-vote margin in October 2016.
“The seniors are looking for a place,” he said. “They’re just looking for a meeting place, some place with a kitchen that they can call theirs.”
Cremata said the mayor should support the assembly while serving the needs of the community. “The role of mayor needs to be a conduit between the community and municipality,” he said.
Acknowledging that he has been opinionated on social media about issues he cares strongly about, Cremata promised to tone it down if elected. “(The mayor) is the face of Skagway, so it’s important to put on a good face,” he said.
Though he said sometimes it’s good to have outspoken opinions in the community, Cremata said he hopes others would take on that role.
For the port, Cremata said the biggest issue is the pollution and contamination. “Until remediation under the ore terminal is completed, all other conversations are moot,” he said. He also said the current leaseholders should be responsible for cleaning up the contamination and that he thinks it represents a violation of the lease.
Hunz said remediation of the seabed contamination is needed at the same time as development. He said the cleanup needs to happen for any improvements to the port to occur. “As you take things out, you need to replace it with something better,” he said. Besides, in the time that Skagway doesn’t expand its port, it’s losing cruise ships to other Alaska communities.
Hunz recommended that a partnership for the port between the borough and the cruise lines might be the best idea for Skagway and that a port director is needed as soon as possible.
Cremata said he would like to hold a town hall meeting to hear from the community on how they see the port in the future.
Hunz said he thought a public-private partnership of the port would be best for Skagway, but he wants to make sure Skagway is controlling partner.
Responding to a question from the Skagway School Superintendent Josh Coughran about whether candidates support full borough funding for the school, Hunz said he supports full funding but tempered that by adding he would want to see the final amount of any state funding cut. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget proposes a $200,000 reduction in state funding for Skagway’s school operating expenses.
Cremata said he supported the municipality doing whatever is needed to provide the best education for students in Skagway.
“We want to make sure (students) have every opportunity available to them,” he said.
Jeff Brady questioned what the candidates would do to ease stresses that the town felt after the loss of Mayor Carlson, the uncertain future of the waterfront, the absence of a borough manager and the worsening housing situation.
Hunz said it comes back to the port and letting people know that Skagway is open for business and ideas.
Cremata said any negativity was imposed by external and internal factors. While Skagway residents couldn’t help the passing of Carlson, they could start looking at the other stressors as opportunities, such as the possibility that Skagway could be in control of the port for the first time in 50 years.
“That’s something to focus on and to be highly optimistic about,” Cremata said.
A full audio recording of the community forum is available at KHNS.org.