Yukon interested, but balks at SE dock

Posted: Friday, December 01, 2000

The Yukon Territory still wants access through ports in Southeast Alaska despite recently refusing to pick up options on a dock in Haines and tidelands in Skagway.

The territorial government invested more than $500,000 (U.S.) before balking at the $4 million price tag for the project.

"We are still committed to securing tidewater access," said Yukon trade and investment director Michael Brandt, who met this week with officials in Skagway. "We're planning for the future when we expect our industrial sector to rebound."

The territory's natural resources primarily minerals, timber, oil and gas are largely untapped. The Yukon has only about 72 wells while there are thousands drilled in Alberta, Brandt pointed out.

Most of the mines are closed, but there's plenty of lead, zinc, silver and gold below the surface, waiting to be mined and shipped around the world.

Haines and Skagway want to help get the ore and other Yukon products to market. The Southeast towns also could serve as transshipment points for northbound freight to supply mega-projects such as the proposed gas pipeline.

"They don't call us the gateway to the Yukon for nothing," Skagway Mayor John Mielke said. "It's our desire to maintain access from both directions because what's good for the Yukon is usually good for Skagway."

The project initiated last year called for the Yukon government to spend up to $3.5 million for the Chilkoot Lumber Company dock in Haines and about $500,000 for tidelands in Skagway. The privately owned properties are located about four miles from their respective downtowns.

Haines leaders were disappointed the Yukon government dropped the project, but are encouraged by talk of a resurgence in commerce to the north.

"They are our close neighbor and we can certainly play a role as they develop," Haines city administrator Vince Hansen said. "There's enough business for both Haines and Skagway."

Brandt believes the Yukon economy will rebound, so the territory wants assurances that both Southeast ports are ready for business.

"This has never been a Haines-vs.-Skagway issue, it's a Haines-and-Skagway issue," Brandt explained. "From the very beginning we've said that Haines will be the port of choice for the west side of the Yukon and Skagway will be the port of choice for the east side of the Yukon."

"A lot depends on which industrial activity is developed first and where it's located," he added.

The Yukon government spent more than $500,000 for the right of first refusal as well as legal and environmental work on the 18-acre dock and staging area in Haines and the 12.6-acre undeveloped waterfront property in Skagway.

"We are facing an increasing demand for dollars," Yukon Premier Pat Duncan explained in a press release last month. "We believe the money would be better spent on priorities such as health care and improving the Yukon's existing infrastructure."

Haines, Skagway and Yukon leaders plan to meet regularly.

"The only thing that has really changed is that we're not acquiring property in Haines and Skagway," Brandt said. "We still think we can partner up with the communities and various stakeholders."

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