The fate of Skagway’s port improvements remains uncertain. The clock is ticking for the municipality to spend $7 million in grant money from the state, yet decisions have been elusive. Most recently, Borough Manager Scott Hahn was charged with seeking direction from the state about the possibility of partnering on a floating dock.
The suggestion proposes a joint project that would replace the ferry dock and add a floating facility that could accommodate breakaway class cruise ships, which are set to arrive in 2018.
Port Commission Chair Tim Bourcy presented the assembly with a list of options during a work session on Jan. 29. He outlined the possibility of three alternatives. The first suggested continuation of the Gateway Project and remediation efforts. Bourcy said the effort would require full participation from stakeholders and financial commitments, as well as professional facilitators.
Second was the option of reallocating the funds to phase two of the small boat harbor, which would continue port development efforts and enhance capacity on a smaller scale. Third was the joint project with the state.
During the work session, assembly members discussed the various options and emphasized the importance of time.
“A year is not a long time. It’s going to go by blindingly fast,” Assemblyman Tim Cochran said. “Basically we have a very short amount of time before we are in competition with those ports.”
Cochran referred to ports like Hoonah and Juneau who have already begun construction on floating docks to accommodate the upcoming 6,000-person vessels.
Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. said none of the proposed avenues will be completed in time for the large ships.
“Trying to implement a Band-aid… it’s a waste of our time trying to do it, and it’s a waste of our money if we do it,” he said, and suggested that they discuss options with the state, and whether it is a viable route.
Burnham said if the funds can’t be used for what they actually need to do, he leans toward returning them.
“If we can’t do the ultimate thing we need to do, which is build a floating dock and remediate the ore basin, we should probably hand them back.”
Bourcy said not using the money would be a travesty and reminded the table that they do have remediation that needs to be taken care of.
“There’s nothing bad that I can say about the 50 years that have happened. The entire development of the waterfront was privately funded by White Pass. We have to take that into account when we look at how we’re moving forward,” he said. “The problem with the past and now is that we have contamination issues that have to be resolved. We have a port to protect.”
The municipality recently reached out to White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, asking if they would be interested in helping with a floating dock. WP&YR President John Finlayson responded in a letter saying he would be open to hearing their plans.
Borough Manager Scott Hahn said for White Pass to sit back is foolish.
“If White Pass finally gets smart and wants to start talking about it, they can come in,” Hahn said. “But if they don’t want to come in, we’re going to be coming forward and picking our own path.”
Finlayson defended the company during a borough assembly meeting on Feb. 4.
“I have heard concerns from the assembly regarding disappointment in White Pass’s behavior,” he said. “We are still looking to put our best foot forward and have discussion if that’s what the city would like.”
He said the company strongly believes that it is in the best interest of White Pass and the municipality to work together, and asked that they hold a meeting in executive session to discuss possibilities for the future.
“I think for the past 25 years the relationship has worked to serve both parties,” he said. “From everything I’ve seen, it’s far more productive for both parties to work together.”
Mayor Mark Schaefer asked that Finlayson have his lawyer contact Borough Attorney Bob Blasco to set up the meeting and said that it will most likely happen.
During the Feb. 4 assembly meeting, the table once again stressed the importance of time and gave Hahn the go ahead to contact the state, while they look into the possibility of other options.
“We’ve talked over the last few years about how sensitive we are to the calendar of what’s going on,” Assemblyman Dan Henry said. “We cannot be any more sensitive right now as to the need for installing a floating dock for these vessels.”