The White Pass & Yukon Route hopes to have a plan within the next two or three weeks for dredging the waters of the ore terminal basin, and will then hold a work session with the borough assembly to discuss the plans before submitting them to state regulators for approval.
The company does not have a schedule for the dredging, which will require approval by several government agencies, Bob Berto, White Pass & Yukon Route president and Survey Point Holdings director, said at the March 7 borough assembly meeting.
“We believe the state would help to fast track (the dredging),” Berto said.
Plans to add on to the ore dock to accommodate larger cruise ships are dependent on resolving the issue of the contaminated seafloor around the ore terminal. The option of dredging the metals and other contaminants has long been discussed. The state owns the ore terminal.
In addition to Berto, Holland America’s vice president for land operations and customer service, Charlie Ball, was at the assembly meeting to discuss options for the port of Skagway and the companies’ intent to work with the municipality.
Ketchikan-based Survey Point holdings which, along with Carnival Corp.’s subsidiary Holland America, last year purchased the White Pass & Yukon Route port, railroad and retail operations in Skagway.
Survey Point is the joint-venture’s managing partner of the port and Skagway operations.
At the start of the assembly meeting, Vice Mayor Tim Cochran said the municipality is still looking into the best way to manage the port after the lease with White Pass expires in 2023, adding it could be an issue that the operation is partially owned by a cruise line.
“(The ownership of White Pass) is a cause for concern for some other cruise ship companies. It’s a cause for concern for the community, as well as the assembly. We want to do right by the community and that’s paramount,” Cochran said.
Seeking to ease those concerns, Ball said cruise ship companies often work with one another and pay for use of each other’s facilities.
“It’s not uncommon for (Holland America) to give money to a competitor in one port if they have the facilities and we’re fairly treated,” Ball said. He said Holland America would not seek preferential treatment, especially in docking, regardless of its ownership stake in the operations.
The tidelands lease agreement between White Pass and Skagway has been a point of contention in previous assembly meetings. The borough is considering two different appraisals for setting the value of the property and the terms of the lease, but has yet to settle on a value for determining the annual lease payments.
Former mayor Tim Borsi criticized the assembly for holding another executive session to discuss the tidelands appraisals. He said the public deserves to know the assembly’s motivations in the decision. “The appraisals you’re talking about effect this entire community,” Borsi said.
Ball said the existing lease with Skagway was unfair toward Skagway, taking too much control away from the municipality. “We really do want to give Skagway’s ports back to Skagway and become a valuable piece of the positive management of that,,” he said.
While the Assemblymember Dave Brena praised Ball for the company’s willingness to work toward a new partnership, he said the assembly would have to see an operating agreement between all parties before a partnership could be considered.
Jamie Bricker, a White Pass employee, said she was disappointed that the assembly did not engage in a public discussion with the new owners of White Pass about partnership opportunities.
“If (a partnership) is not what you want at the end of the day and if it’s not what the public wants, at least it was done in an atmosphere where everybody was able to participate and share about what they want for this community,” Bricker said.
After the executive session, the assembly voted unanimously to have interim manager Tom Healy draft a letter to White Pass concerning a possible change in the tidelands lease payments. The assembly did not publicly explain what the letter would say or what it might propose for a new lease fee.