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Skagway Assembly holds public meeting with White Pass reps to discuss plans for the port

By: Abbey Collins

KHNS FM

The Skagway Assembly held a workshop with representatives from White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad last week. They came together to discuss immediate needs for Skagway’s port.

The railroad is a major tourist attraction, and player in Skagway’s port. It got new owners and a new president earlier this summer.

The municipality has heard calls from residents for more engagement with the new leadership. And, at a recent assembly meeting, the group voted to set up a public meeting with White Pass representatives.

On Friday night, Mayor Monica Carlson identified critical goals for Skagway’s waterfront, and asked the railroad’s new president Bob Berto whether they will be accomplished. She pointed to cleanup of contamination of the ore basin.

“It’s probably one of the number one things that the community wants, is the harbor cleaned. So, can you assure the community that that will be done?” Carlson asked.

“Well I think I stated that already, that we’re prepared to go to the meeting on the 5th, and work with DEC and whatever plan they come up with, and we’re going to move forward with that,” Berto said.

Berto said the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is planning to hold a stakeholder meeting about the ore basin contamination on September 5.

Carlson also identified building a floating dock at the ore dock as an immediate need. That infrastructure is needed to accommodate larger cruise ships.

“As far as the floating dock on the ore dock, you’re prepared to have that installed by what year?” Carlson asked.

“We’re preparing to start the permitting process so we get the ball rolling,” Berto said. “We’re committed to sit down with you guys and discuss it. I don’t think we can wait for whatever process is going on and not get it permitted.”

Port Commission Chair Tom Cochran added retention of industrial port capabilities to the list of immediate needs.

He said increasing port revenue also needs to be a priority moving forward.

“The municipality has shouldered the burden of massive increased demand on its services and infrastructure, a direct result of the cruise industry,” Cochran said. “Port revenue, meanwhile, has been stagnant and insufficient, probably at best, for what the municipality receives.”

Berto said, since the sale earlier this summer, the railroad has been working on several different things. Berto said a lot of work has been done on the hillside near the railroad dock that is prone to rock slides. And, he said White Pass has initiated a safety audit.

“Our number one goal in all of this is safety,” Berto said. “Not only for our employees but for passengers as well.”

Berto said the company is working on getting permitting to install dolphins at the end of the railroad dock to accommodate larger ships next year. And, he said the company has started to engage engineers for permitting work to install the floating dock.

“The one we haven’t tackled yet is housing,” Berto said. “We think housing is a very important issue. I know there’s been some work done previous to that. We just haven’t had time in the first month here to get to that, but that’s certainly one that’s going to be on our table.”

Tim Bourcy said he’s excited about the opportunity to engage new ownership with Alaska roots.

“Because it is a new day. It is kind of a carpe diem day for the municipality of Skagway,” Bourcy said. “We have a long history and it’s been a very good history with the past owners of White Pass. We did a lot of great things in the past with that company. They are no longer here. They did leave a legacy, some of it good, some of it bad. Most of it was good.”

Prioritizing remediation of the ore basin was reiterated by several assembly members, including Orion Hanson.

Hanson said that’s one of a number of things he’d like to see in an agreement between the two groups, if one were to be developed. He added, the municipality having a port authority that retains ultimate control of the port, and a fair and equal opportunity for all cruise ships to come to Skagway. He said he’d also like to see uplands revert back to the municipality in 2023, and a roll-on, roll-off floating dock with industrial highway capacity.

“Lastly, I think having White Pass operate and manage the port,” Hanson said. “There’s been  discussion of the municipality doing that. I do not think that’s a good idea. I think this group here has done an excellent job and will continue to do an excellent job.”

Earlier this month, the assembly initiated an appraisal of the tidelands area currently leased by White Pass. They also decided to draft a request for information for the municipal tidelands area.

 

Link to original article: https://khns.org/skagway-assembly-holds-public-meeting-with-white-pass-reps-to-discuss-plans-for-the-port

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