March 10, 2011 |

Skagway, Haines mull joint projects

Hydropower and transportation were two items on what Mayor Jan Hill called a "limitless" list of potential areas for collaboration between the Haines Borough and Municipality of Skagway.

"There’s so many things we could be doing together, but in order to do something well, we need to have a focus," Hill said.

She was in Juneau for a Southeast Conference summit and phoned in to Monday’s joint work session in Skagway that drew members from the Haines Borough and Skagway assemblies. The agenda included Upper Lynn Canal port development, tourism and energy.

"I think people are going to pay attention when they see Haines and Skagway doing some of these kinds of joint efforts, and I think that we can set a real good example for how other, similar communities can be working together to make things happen for their little areas," Hill said.

Consultant Stan Selmer was one of about a dozen people in the audience and said a Haines and Skagway partnership should spread to other towns because "Southeast is sick and tired of being the red-headed stepchild."

"I think it’s about time that upper Lynn Canal, and not just upper Lynn Canal but all of Southeast, step forward and start to bang their shoe on the table to get some money in here," said Selmer, a former Alaska Power and Telephone manager.

Assembly members suggested approving joint resolutions to better their chances of securing state funding, especially for hydropower projects that would limit the need for diesel to handle peak usage.

"It’s just a shame that we burn one single gallon of diesel fuel in the upper Lynn Canal for electricity," said Haines assemblyman Scott Rossman. "It’s ridiculous. It should never happen, ever, and here we do it all the time, and we’re sitting in the middle of the greatest resource on earth."

Member Jerry Lapp said he pays 57 cents a kilowatt hour at his 33 Mile Haines Highway residence.

Assembly members also discussed the Alaska Marine Highway, and Lapp said, "The schedule isn’t bad; they’re just running the wrong boats."

Lapp and the other Haines assembly members had traveled to Skagway that night on the Kennicott ferry with borough manager Mark Earnest and clerk Julie Cozzi. Member Greg Goodman was absent.

Member Joanne Waterman, who works at the Haines ferry terminal, said wind has led to increased cancellations this winter. "What I feel from most people is the winter service is adequate if it’s running."

She said the state moving forward with the Alaska Class Ferry Project to upgrade the fleet would lead to more reliable winter transportation.

Skagway Mayor Tom Cochran said he also would like the Haines-Skagway water taxi to offer more availability to residents for special events.

Tim Cochran of the Skagway assembly said Haines and Skagway could partner for mutual aid "in case there’s a catastrophic earthquake, landslides, oil spill … we have resources at our availability that we can commit to each other."

Steve Vick of the Haines assembly said the two communities could team up for some tourism promotions. Buckwheat Donahue, Skagway tourism director, said recreational vehicle travel and winter tourism were two top areas for a combined advertising effort.

Mike Korsmo of the Skagway assembly said both Haines and Skagway would be heavily impacted by redistricting of legislative districts that could lump them in with part of Juneau. Korsmo said he would prefer to remain in the same district as other rural communities and should lobby against a shift to Juneau.

"We’re going to get buried if we get sucked in with a larger metropolitan area," he said.