Public not invited to railroad meeting
Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott apologized this week for allowing a Jan. 20 meeting regarding a railroad feasibility study to be held behind closed doors and without notice to the public.
The meeting was attended by borough officials, members of the Chilkoot Indian Association, members of the borough’s Port Development Steering Committee and members of the private Port Development Council.
It was held at the Chilkoot Indian Association office and involved an update on the $87,000 study intended to gauge the feasibility of a railroad from Delta Junction, Y.T ., to Haines.
The borough accepted the $87,000 grant for the study from the Alaska Department of Transportation in September, and is contracting with transportation consulting firm PROLOG Canada to complete the study.
Kells Boland, president of PROLOG, attended the meeting to give an update on the study and meet the stakeholders involved, said Mayor Scott.
“(Boland) just described his job was to build the economic case for the railroad – the business case – and he wasn’t at all taking into consideration the environmental issues or cultural issues. He was just laying out the business case,” Scott said.
Bill Kurz, a board member of the private Port Development Council who attended the meeting, said the group also discussed potential terminal sites and routing of the rail.
In a Jan. 15 email to the Port Development Steering Committee members, executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck asked the group to attend the meeting at 9 a.m. at the Chilkoot Indian Association’s new office on Third Avenue.
According to Alaska’s Open Meetings Act, the borough is required to post adequate public notice of committee meetings.
In another email the same day addressed to Kurz, Culbeck said the meeting was not open to the public. “This is not a public meeting, so attendance will be limited on this go around,” Culbeck wrote.
Culbeck is on vacation for the next two weeks and was unavailable for comment.
Scott said it didn’t occur to her the meeting should have been posted publicly until she realized media representatives were missing. “It upsets me when things like that happen,” she said.
“I said something about it, but I didn’t make a fuss about it. I will in the future. It’s not going to happen again,” Scott said.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel also attended the meeting as a member of the Port Development Steering Committee. Discussion centered around what route a railroad would take, and those present at the meeting were able to give Boland information to help him develop alternatives for the route (including if the Juneau Access Road were eventually constructed on the west side of the Lynn Canal).
“I thought I was at a public meeting,” Schnabel said. “It never occurred to me this wasn’t being handled (correctly)... Our administration fell short. It definitely should have been noticed. I mean, it was a committee meeting. That’s why I went,” she said.
When asked why the meeting wasn’t publicly noticed, interim manager Julie Cozzi said it was a “misunderstanding and an oversight on the part of the staff member who organized it.”
“It is a training issue. This will be addressed so it doesn’t happen again,” Cozzi said.
As part of the study, PROLOG will perform a private and public sector assessment. For the private sector assessment, the company will estimate commercial revenues, operating costs and investment capital for Haines rail access.
Potential private revenue sources include mining companies Crest Iron Ore, Prophecy Platinum, Casino Copper Concentrate, and Mackenzie Delta/Beaufort Oil and Gas.
The public sector assessment will examine potential effects on the economy, such as increased tourism and job creation.