In a 3-3 tie broken by Mayor Douglas Olerud, the Haines Borough Assembly voted to postpone discussion about returning a $350,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant.

The postponement gives Haines Sheldon Museum advocates, including Rasmuson Foundation president Diane Kaplan, time to find a match for the grant, or another creative solution for keeping the grant money in Alaska.

The NEH grant, which would support renovation of the museum’s decrepit climate-control system, requires somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000 in matching funds, depending on who you ask. At a Government Affairs and Services (GAS) Committee meeting earlier this month, assembly members said the borough doesn’t have money to support this.

“Returning the grant to NEH is very unusual and would not put Alaska in a good light,” Olerud said, reading from an email Kaplan sent him Tuesday afternoon. In the email, she asks that the assembly postpone a decision while her organization works with the borough and other stakeholders in the region to keep the money in the state.

Kaplan was made aware of the NEH grant predicament by former museum director Helen Alten, who has been looking into ways to fund the match without borough support.

In an email to the Mayor, Alten listed preliminary funding leads including the Rasmuson Foundation and potential in-kind contributions from AP&T and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“I would ask that you request an extension from NEH due to COVID-19 interfering with your ability to raise the matching funds. Then some work should be done to raise the match. We need the economic development money for our community of Haines. This is a great project and will feed locals,” Alten wrote in the email.

Assembly members who supported the extension, including Jerry Lapp, Caitie Kirby and Carol Tuynman, said they were open to the idea of pursuing all funding avenues before turning down the money.

“I don’t feel that all avenues have been looked at yet for matching monies for this,” Lapp said. “It sounds like there are several avenues, and it would be to our detriment if we did turn this money back… because I know the museum does need this upgrade.”

Cheryl Stickler, who opposed the extension along with Paul Rogers and Gabe Thomas, said she felt the delay disregarded the wishes of the museum board and prevented the funds from being used immediately for another project.

“I will not be voting in favor of delaying returning the funding to NEH so it can be reallocated to an entity who is ready to reappropriate it,” Stickler said, adding that it could be worth looking into cheaper ways to improve the museum’s climate-control system.

The museum board didn’t respond to a request for comment on the grant by press time.

During NEH grant discussion on Tuesday, interim manager Alekka Fullerton mentioned she’d received a proposal from the Chilkoot Indian Association (CIA) regarding the museum. In an email Wednesday, Fullerton declined to provide specifics while negotiations are ongoing. CIA tribal administrator Harriet Brouillette also declined to comment.

The borough has had talks this winter with CIA about purchasing the building. It is unclear how CIA involvement with the museum would interact with museum board plans to restructure the institution as an independent nonprofit.