A new White Pass &Yukon Route Railroad lease is being negotiated now. Combined with modifications to the current lease, it will cover the next 20 years. A new lease must be approved by the voters.
These lease negotiations are complex, made more so because the ultimate owner of White Pass (TWC Enterprises) has announced they may sell White Pass in the near future. A cruise line conglomerate could become the new owner of White Pass.
The Ore Dock expansion project must begin this fall to be ready for larger cruise ships coming in 2019. This project is mutually beneficial to both Skagway and White Pass, and both would miss out on new revenue without it.
At the Aug. 3 Borough Assembly meeting, John Finlayson (White Pass president) was asked to separate the dock expansion project from the other items in their lease proposal so that work on the project could commence, while both parties would continue to negotiate lease modifications and terms in the coming months. Mr. Finlayson refused to work with Skagway on the dock expansion as a separate project, saying that only the whole package is mutually beneficial. No other reason was given.
By taking this stance, TWC Enterprises is trying to make negotiations for lease terms take on the same urgency as the dock expansion project. The assembly is now trying to negotiate a complicated, long-term lease in the next two weeks, in order to put it on the October ballot.
The only item driving this urgency is the dock expansion project. The recent port consultant economic analysis estimated that without the dock expansion, Skagway tourism revenue will continue to rise slowly, but not as fast as with the larger ships.
The probable effect in 2019 would be to have just a bit over the number of passengers we have had in 2017.
If the larger ships start coming in 2020, Skagway will then get the benefit of a significant increase in cruise visitation.
Is having a year like this season during the year after next so harmful to Skagway that it is more important than taking the time now to negotiate the best lease terms that will cover the next 20 years? Please tell the assembly that you want them to take more time to negotiate a new lease that can be put to the voters early next year, and plan for a 2020 dock expansion date.
C. E. Furbish • Skagway