By Gretchen Wehmhoff
In a five to one vote Oct. 20, the assembly approved a resolution finalizing an agreement between the Municipality of Skagway (MOS) and White Pass (WPYR), defining conditions of the end of lease port transition.
The resolution states that Pacific and Arctic Railway & Navigation (PARN/WPYR) and MOS will enter into a written agreement, setting aside the contentious arguments each side held as the 55-year WPYR lease approaches its end in March 2023.
In the agreement, WPYR will permanently transfer all tideland improvements to the MOS. In earlier rhetoric, PARN/WPYR had threatened to remove significant improvement infrastructure and materials the organization had provided over the years. PARN/WPYR estimates – and MOS is not committing to agreement on – the replacement cost to be about $40 million. Those materials will now stay in place.
In an apparent exchange of responsibility, MOS will release PARN/WPYR from obligations for additional environmental remediation up to $15 million. The MOS acknowledged the cost of the Phase One dredging already completed by WPYR to be approximately $3.8 million.
WPYR will allow the MOS to have early access to the lease areas in order to work on the enhancement of Ore Dock, including replacing and rehabilitating existing infrastructure, in time for the 2023 season.
As such, the MOS will allow WPYR to continue operations of the port until the lease expires.
Public comment at the meeting centered around moving forward in the best interest of all parties and the community.
“At the end of the day, the community resoundingly decided that they wanted to take over the port. They also resoundingly decided that they were willing to invest in the port. And this allows us to move forward and for everything that has happened over the years, it’s all water under the bridge at this point,” resident business owner Tim Bourcy said.
Asemblymember Jay Burnham, the dissenting vote on the resolution, shared concerns about the short amount of public comment time given to the members and the public.
“I understand expediting things, but this resolution would commit $15 million to remediate the Ore basin, something the municipality is not responsible for contaminating. This resolution was put in our packet five days ago. It has only been available to the assembly and public for a short amount of time. I feel that doesn’t give the assembly members and more importantly, the public, time to examine all the ramifications of this resolution,” Burnham said.