By Melinda Munson

At midnight on March 18, the 55-year Pacific and Arctic Railway and Navigation Company lease ended, granting the Municipality of Skagway freedom to operate its own port. There was no ceremony to mark the occasion. That will come later.

“It’s been a long road to get here,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata. “And there’s a sense of accomplishment for sure. But this starts the beginning of a lot more work.”

Part of that work was negotiations for the upland leases. At times the process was tense, but all agreements were completed by the takeover deadline, with upland leases contracted for current fair market value.

“I know there’s been a lot of consternation … for the employees of those businesses because uncertainty and change is extremely difficult,” Cremata said.

Alaska Marine Lines, Inc. (AML) signed a two-year lease for two acres (Ordinance 23-03). Moving forward, AML will be charged to access the loading ramp and the municipality will be responsible for maintaining the infrastructure. 

“…they will be charged the wharfage and dockage to come into the loading ramp. With that comes our responsibility to be proactive and keep it in good shape,” said Borough Manager Brad Ryan.

Fair market value was assessed at $133,600 annually.

Cruise Lines Agencies Alaska (CLAA) agreed to a one year, eight month lease for 6,566 square feet of property (Ordinance 23-04). The odd lease length is to ensure that if the municipality decides not to renew the lease the contract ends in the fall, allowing time for a transition into the following tourist season. Fair market value was assessed at $29,600 annually.

Petro Marine, Inc. signed the shortest lease at eight months for 2.19 acres (Ordinance 23-06). According to the ordinance, this is because “additional time is required for negotiation of a longer-term lease and to provide for a vote if the requirements of SMC 16.03.025(B) are met, and therefore the municipality would like to approve a short-term lease to ensure uninterrupted fuel supply to Skagway and the Yukon.”  

Because the Petro Marine long-term lease will bring in more than $5 million for the entire length of the contract, voters must approve the lease on this October’s ballot.

Fair market value was assessed at $269,600 annually.

TEMSCO Helicopters, Inc. accepted a lease for four years and eight months for 1.46 acres (Ordinance 23-05). Fair market value was assessed at $201,600.

“…this has been a long process and a difficult one,” said Assemblymember Orion Hanson. I think and hope we can all move forward and go back to just doing what we do.”

 “And I thank everybody,” he continued. It’s not been easy on the assembly either. And I know staff has worked hard. I know all the managers and owners of these respective businesses – it’s been difficult for them as well.  And I think we’re at the finish line. And I think we’ve gotten to at least a good place for now.”

One day after the first ship of the season arrives in Skagway’s self-managed port, the municipality will host a dedication. The event will occur April 19 at 5 p.m. at Shoreline Park, followed by a town photograph in front of Broadway Dock.

Cremata said he is “grateful that community leaders in 1968 were wise enough to enter into a deal that allowed this community to grow. Now it’s our turn to take the baton and grow our community in ways that will benefit every resident for generations.”

None of the lease holders returned comment by deadline.