Skagway Assembly requests Governor Walker divert funding from Juneau Access Road

Aerial photo of Skagway (Photo by S. Millard/National Park Service)

The Skagway Assembly wants to see money budgeted for the Juneau Access Road diverted to help fund ferry infrastructure. That’s one issue the group voted on at a meeting Thursday.

Other topics ranged from Skagway’s new parking rules to Carnival Corporation’s announcement that it will purchase White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.

During her report at the start of the meeting, Mayor Monica Carlson asked the assembly for guidance on making a request to the governor to divert funds from the Juneau Access Road project.

In 2016, Governor Walker canceled the project. However, in May the state Senate restored funding for it in the capital budget. The fate of the road is still uncertain.

The assembly voted 4-2 to send a request to the governor to redirect funding from the road to the replacement of Skagway’s state ferry float. Assembly members David Brena and Tim Cochran were opposed.

Mayor Carlson also asked the civic affairs committee to review the failed ordinance governing vacation rentals in the municipality. Carlson said that she is worried about the effect that services such as Airbnb could have on the community’s housing.

“I believe it’s really necessary that the community is proactive on Airbnbs,” Carlson said. “I worry. I read so many articles about small communities and big cities that have allowed it to just blow up.”

During the public comment portion of the assembly meeting, several residents raised concerns about the municipality’s new parking rules. Skagway resident Nancy Corrington said that the availability of parking permits for residents in Skagway’s historic district has been a problem.

“I’d also like to take issue with the permitting process that eliminates the permit privilege of someone who is away from Skagway for up to six months. This does affect a lot of people who only live here who don’t have a residence elsewhere,” Corrington said.

Assembly members Orion Hanson and David Brena agreed that the parking permit language needs to be revisited and clarified.

On Wednesday, Carnival Corporation announced it has entered into a purchase and sale agreement to acquire White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

White Pass President John Finlayson addressed the sale to the cruise company at the assembly meeting. He said that the objective of the sale was to find a buyer who would maintain their services responsibly.

“Certainly the staff at White Pass would have opportunities and security going forward. The community’s needs would be met going forward. I have to say we couldn’t be happier with the two organizations that have come forward,” Finlayson said.

Carnival is forming a joint venture with Ketchikan-based Survey Point Holdings for port operations. Finlayson said that both companies are a good match for the sale because of their existing investment in Skagway. Carnival brings in more than 50 percent of Skagway’s cruise passengers.

As for the dock lease negotiations between the municipality and White Pass, he said the company has always hoped for a solution that benefits both parties.

“Our negotiations about the lease were always about trying to do what was mutually beneficial to the city and to White Pass. While we have a few weeks left as owners, it is still our intention to do that,” Finlayson said.

Also at the meeting, assembly member Orion Hanson spoke of the possibility of opening up Mental Health Trust land in the Skagway Borough for residential development. In particular, he showed interest in property along the Dyea road and the Klondike Highway.

“I think it would behoove us to contact Mental Health, whether the municipality buys it or they just put it up for sale. I don’t know that it needs to be in our hands, but put it out there for the public to bid on. I think really the goal here is to make it residential opportunities,” Hanson said.

The assembly decided to send maps of land in the Skagway Borough owned by the Department of Natural Resources, the Mental Health Trust, and the U.S. Forest Service to the civic affairs committee for review. Afterward, it could make a formal inquiry to those organizations about putting their land on the market.

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