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Skagway Assembly, White Pass, will meet for work session

By: Abbey Collins


The Skagway Assembly is holding a Friday evening work session with White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. The railroad has new owners. And, it’s an important player in a central concern for the municipality right now: the port.

Toward the end of a regular assembly meeting last week, Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. moved to set up a meeting with representatives from White Pass.

“We have to establish discussions that move us forward somehow,” said Burnham. “We have to have introductions and discussions about what we see Skagway as being. All that glitter. And then we have to talk about immediate need. And then we have to talk about long term.”

The assembly voted unanimously in favor of the meeting.

In July, the railroad got new owners and a new president. The company was sold to a joint venture of Ketchikan-based Survey Point Holdings, its affiliates Rail Management Services, shareholders of the transportation company Carrix, and the cruise company Carnival Corporation. Bob Berto is the new president.

Each day, the train takes thousands of tourists from Skagway, through the White Pass, and into the Yukon. And, it’s a major player in Skagway’s port.

The assembly received several letters from the community, asking them to sit down with the new owners and open up the conversation.

Mayor Monica Carlson said the assembly is taking the future of the port seriously. She said she has been in communication with White Pass’s new president.

“For the record, I have met with Mr. Berto twice, since his company acquired the railroad,” said Carlson. “I last spoke by phone with Mr. Berto a week ago Monday. It was 12:30, after my office hours. We discussed that time is of the essence for permitting a deep water dolphin and getting a dock in place in 2020.”

She said they intended to work together on a plan, but have faced some communication issues.

Others came forward at the assembly meeting, asking for more transparency. Since late May, the assembly has gone into executive session at nearly every regular meeting, to talk about issues related to the port, and the railroad.

Carlson defended the use of executive sessions.

“We do not arbitrarily call an executive session on a whim,” said Carlson. “In tonight’s executive session, we will be working on a request for information proposal. And the attorney has requested that we discuss it in executive session before we finalize the proposal.”

Tim Bourcy told the assembly he would file a complaint if they went into a scheduled executive session at the end of the meeting. He said he thought they would be violating open meetings law.

“If you guys go into executive session, I am going to file a complaint with the state of Alaska’s AG’s office,” said Bourcy. “Because this has been going on for too long.  I know it’s a hard decision. I know it’s difficult. I know you guys are a divided table. I’ve been here long enough to see that. But you guys have to try to get consensus. We’ve had two years and this entire community is at stake.”

The assembly ultimately passed on the executive session at the end of the meeting, until it could get in contact with the borough attorney.

Beth Smith said residents are starting to get nervous about what’s happening with the port.

“Having all these meetings on such a big, enormous topic that really affects every person in this town, to go into executive session week after week and not — it’s making people nervous,” said Beth. “Nobody knows what’s going on. People want to know. And we deserve to know what’s going on. People are excited. They’re excited about this purchase.”

White Pass representative Tyler Rose asked the assembly to open up communication with the new ownership.

“What I would like to see is some sort of motion or action from the assembly tonight, to engage with the new ownership in whatever form that may take,” said Rose.

Earlier this month, assembly voted to have the tidelands area currently leased by White Pass appraised. They also voted to draft a request for information for the municipal tidelands area.

The assembly work session with White Pass is scheduled for Friday, August 24 at 7:30 p.m.

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