Assembly approves Glacier Point ATV tour with conditions


March 15, 2018

The Haines Borough narrowly approved a new Glacier Point ATV tour permit proposed by a Skagway tour company. The borough assembly voted 3-3 to approve the tour permit, on the condition that they review the tour after one year, with the Mayor breaking the tie.

Assembly members Tresham Gregg, Stephanie Scott and Brenda Josephson supported the permit. Gregg told the CVN that he opposes the motorized tour in principle, but was concerned the borough would be sued if it denied the company the tour permit.

“We really didn’t have a legal reason to deny (the permit).” Gregg said. “We were essentially opening ourselves up for a lawsuit.”

No assembly members discussed the potential of a potential lawsuit during Tuesday’s meeting. Until that night, safety concerns dominated the discussion.

Former Alaska Excursions employees opposed the tour permit when the issue came before the assembly last month, citing concerns that the company’s upper management pressures boat captains and other guides to conduct tours in unsafe weather conditions. They also alleged the company neglects other safety concerns and maintenance needs.

The company issued “cease and desist” letters to four former employees this week after Alaska Excursions owner Robert Murphy said the employees breached its email server.

“Alaska Excursions demands that your return copies of any Alaska Excursions documents or information in your possession,” the letter states. “Finally, you are further advised that Alaska Excursions will consider legal action to address any untruthful and defamatory statements you have made, or will make, to the fullest extent of the law.”

Many of the company’s current and former employees wrote to the assembly and spoke during public comment in support of the Alaska Excursions. At Tuesday’s meeting, the tone largely changed from safety concerns to land use and the flawed process of permit issuance.

Bart Henderson used to run the tour operation at Glacier Point that Murphy now owns. Henderson told the assembly the permitting process is flawed and said if there’s no legal reason to deny the permit, it should be approved.

“If there isn’t a clearcut reason to deny this permit, they shouldn’t be denied,” Henderson said. “I don’t like to see this very nebulous subjective criteria. I think it’s time to look at this ordinance, and it’s time to inject a little guidance into it by adding some ways to make it less subjective.”

According to borough code, the assembly will authorize a permit if it “Finds that the applicant for the proposed commercial tour is fit, willing, and able to perform such tour and to conform to the provisions and purposes set out in this title.”

Tom Faverty said he thought the current Glacier Point tour was acceptable, but by doubling the tour capacity, it would negatively affect Haines residents’ experience.

“Their experience at Glacier Point and Chilkat Inlet is going to be diminished by their activities,” Faverty said. “I don’t want to go out there and see a constant buzz of activity. There needs to be limits to growth.”

Nearby property owner Lori Lapeyri Smith spoke in support of the Alaska Excursion tour.

Assembly member Tom Morphet pressed the safety concerns. He proposed several amendments to the permit approval vote including creating an anonymous system for Alaska Excursions employees to notify the borough of complaints. Morphet said he had “a bunch” of amendments, but when several assembly members disagreed with his ideas and expressed frustration with listening to his list of amendments, he relented.

“Mr. Morphet has lost faith in the assembly’s willingness to consider any further amendments,” Morphet said.

Assembly member Stephanie Scott told the CVN she voted to approve the permit in the spirit of compromise.

“Everybody’s been saying we would be a better community if we compromised,” Scott said. “That’s what I was looking for.”

Alaska Excursions will be required to submit a safety plan, and pass an Haines Volunteer Fire Department inspection to verify that lifesaving equipment is onsite and that the ATV pathways will avoid the tern colony.

Murphy told the assembly the company plans to build roughly three miles of trails. The tour will be capped to allow 8,000 guests this year. The company had requested approval for 15,000 per year.


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