By Leigh Armstrong

The borough assembly has backed away from its vote of just a few weeks ago to insert widening of Fourth Avenue at Broadway into its approval of National Park Service walking tours for another five years. The assembly on a 4-2 vote April 18 approved a two-year agreement for the tours to continue, without the road provision.

At its April 4 meeting, the assembly approved an addition to the walking tours agreement that would allow Skagway to widen Fourth Avenue at the Old Moore Homestead to two lanes. 

After the assembly accepted the road amendment in a split decision, Assemblymember Orion Hanson, interim borough manager Tom Healy and borough clerk Emily Deach met with acting NPS superintendent Jason Verhaeghe and incoming superintendent Jason Taylor on April 5 to discuss the revised agreement. 

“With the amendment, we had to make Spring and Fifth a two-way street, which would effectively disallow Park Service walking tours to happen in Skagway,” Hanson said. Besides, he said, “There’s no one in Skagway who can approve widening a road that extends onto Park Service land.” 

At the April 5 meeting, the group came up with a two-year agreement that would allow the Park Service to continue the walking tours, while giving the municipality and Park Service time to look into the road issue without disrupting the tours in Skagway. 

“I think it’s something that can work in the short term and draw attention to the safety hazard,” Hanson said. 

“I think this is a major safety issue and has been for a long time,” Assemblymember Dave Brena said at the April 4 assembly meeting. “(The road) is in the area that the Park Service (tours) are standing.” 

Assemblymember Steve Burnham, who opposed the road-widening provision at the April 4 assembly, said April 18 that the walking tour and road widening are two separate issues that the municipality was placing together. 

“It was clear that (the road widening) was not something that the Park Service was able to fulfill,” Burnham said. “We didn’t put it forward as a negotiation of the contract. We didn’t say we were concerned about it and let’s get it taken care of. Instead, we amended (the walking tour agreement) and passed it.”  

Assemblymember Dave Brena said the issue of the road and the walking tours go hand in hand, due to the increased road traffic mixing with the tours during the summer. 

The two-year agreement approved by the assembly April 18 notes that Fourth Avenue meets the required minimum width for a two-lane road. Though it “doesn’t take into account 40-foot busses buzzing through there at 20 miles per hour,” Brena said. “I don’t think you could pass a car and a bus at the pinch point.” 

Assemblymember Dan Henry said it’s been an issue for at least 15 years and the decision would come down to someone out of Skagway with authority to approve road work on federal land. But until then, the municipality could ensure with the new two-year agreement that the walking tour stays a part of the town. 

“We will never have an audience with the decision maker,” Henry said. “You would have to hope that somebody (in the federal government) cared about the safety issue. It’s become obvious over the past 15 years that they don’t, so let’s just pass the walking tour.” 

Brena and Burnham voted against the two-year agreement.