A cruise ship sits in the port of Skagway on May 5, 2018. The mayor of Skagway says the community is continuing to work on plans for its port, including possibilities of separate spaces for cruise ships and shipping ore. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Pondering port plans

Skagway mayor envisions partnerships with Yukon

Skagway mayor Andrew Cremata says the community is continuing to work on plans for its port and that could have positive impacts for Yukon industries.

In a Sept. 3 interview, Cremata said there’s no intention of replacing cruise ship space at the dock, but rather it is looking at possibilities that would better separate the cruise ship and industrial operations of the dock.

A waterfront lease White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad has for the space ends in 2023 and the municipality is considering operations after that.

Cremata noted the community turned down an extension to the lease, that’s been in place for more than 60 years, a couple of years ago and has been in various stages for planning since. Most recently, that means looking at improvements to separate uses.

Cremata said such a change could reduce conflicts.

The current dock means that in a typical year cruise ships are docked near the ore facilities and at times have to be moved around so they can be used to load ore.

Cremata noted that while there is still much work to do in any planning, upgrades will also be needed for the ore loading area.

“The idea on how to develop the port is still in its infancy,” he said, adding efforts will continue over the next two and a half years.

As he pointed out, that part of the dock is old and outdated with the ore loader itself being about 50 years old.

Hopefully, if the plans move ahead, there would be partnerships between Skagway and the Yukon ensuring both jurisdictions benefit from the improvements, Cremata said.

“I think that’s really positive,” he commented, adding there have been ongoing discussions along the way with the territory as efforts have continued to explore possibilities after 2023.

On the cruise ship side of things, Cremata said the city wants to create a more welcoming space for visitors getting off cruise ships, noting that in a typical year some are greeted to the industrial side of the dock when they arrive and get off the cruise ship.

He highlighted possibilities for more greenery and beautification to greet cruise ship passengers as they exit the ships and get their first glimpse of the community.

“We want to have an exciting, positive visitor experience here,” he said.

Cremata acknowledged that much will depend on how the cruise industry and tourism rebounds following the devastating 2020 year due to COVID-19.

He’s hopeful that by 2022 or 2023, the cruise ship industry will be in a healthy position again, highlighting figures that show overall bookings are up for cruises in 2021.

Some companies, such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines, have reported bookings for next year that are within the range of previous years.

For Skagway though, where a number of businesses are dependant on tourism dollars, much will depend on a variety of factors including whether travel restrictions are lifted, the opening of borders, a potential COVID-19 vaccine and the ability of cruise companies to find the staff they need and put protocols in place that meet health and safety regulations to deal with COVID-19.

Cremata is hopeful that over the next few months details will be worked out that will allow for a 2021 cruise ship season for Skagway.

By the time the 2021 season rolls around there’s a number of business owners who will have gone 17 months without revenue, including revenue that would not only come from cruise ship passengers, but also from Yukoners who visit, Cremata noted.

“The good news is Skagway residents are very resilient,” he said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com