Now for the backlash from Skagway officials who helped challenge the redistricting board’s political map linking the Upper Lynn Canal to the Mendenhall Valley in Juneau in court.
The lawsuit challenged the Republican-majority council’s decision to separate the neighborhoods of Haines, Skagway and Klukwan’s House from downtown Juneau and Douglas Island. The heavily Democratic district is held by Rep. Sarah Hannan of Juneau.
Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata called the court’s decision a partial victory and said he was ready to appeal to the state’s highest court. KHNS’ Corinne Smith also spoke with Mayor Cremata about what’s happening at this week’s assembly meeting.
KHNS: So first, what is your response to the court’s decision on the legislative district map?
Andrew Cremata: Well, today we celebrate a victory in this court case. But it will be a short-lived celebration, because there is always the Supreme Court (of Alaska). And we will appeal to the Supreme Court focusing on the parts of the decision that were not favorable. But as far as the judge was concerned, I was really impressed that he heard exactly what we were saying, during our case and during the trial. That is to say, the voice of the people who live here in Skagway, the voice of our constituents has not been heard. And I think he was very clear in his decision on that. I think it almost sounded like a rebuke to the board that they ignored the voices here at Skagway, and obviously that is in our favor. We are therefore delighted.
KHNS: Right. It was a pretty scathing decision saying that public testimony had not been properly heard and public comments had not been considered. So you said you were going to take this, appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court?
Cremata: Absolutely. So one of the other parts of our case that we felt was relevant was that we have a very strong socio-economic integration with downtown Juneau. And it’s a key part of our case. Another key part of the case, of course, was the part that was judged favorably. And it also ties in with some of the other districts that had the same complaint, that the council failed to take into consideration these socio-economic integration factors. It is therefore worth talking to the Supreme Court about it so that it can rule on this issue as well. What we don’t want to do is get into a scenario where we rest on our laurels and then end up back at square one. We will therefore continue to defend the interests of the voters of this community and do everything in our power to arrive at a favorable judgment in the end with the Supreme Court.
KHNS: So with respect to the next Assembly meeting this week, an important item ahead of the Skagway Assembly is this resolution to accept federal COVID relief funding in excess of $9 million. How will this federal aid be spent?
Cremata: Well, for federal aid, the goal here is to replenish funds that were lost during the pandemic… We’ve been through a really tough time with a pandemic. And now that we’re coming out of it, I feel like one of our biggest triumphs here at Skagway has been being able to retain all of our municipal staff. Make sure they haven’t had to take pay cuts, make sure they’re there. (WEB: Because the big fear is that if you lose these quality people that we have working for the municipality, that they go and work somewhere else. If we lost during the pandemic, try to fill these seats now, where c it’s virtually impossible to find employees, for many businesses and government agencies it would put us at a serious disadvantage when trying to solve all these problems that we face on a daily basis.) So I feel like that was a great triumph for us. This money obviously goes to ensure that we can continue our port independence projects, infrastructure development, capital projects and all the other things that we do as a municipality. So that brings us back to where we need to be.
KHNS: Another item on the agenda before the meeting is the awarding of the management contract for the Garden City RV Park. Can you talk about that?
Cremata: This was tabled at the previous meeting of the assembly. I imagine a couple or a few of the congregants wanted to do a little more research (WEB: on maybe what the intention is to use Garden City this year.) But I don’t plan on let that be a problem. There was a bidding process, someone made an offer, so all you have to do is approve it.
KHNS: And it’s also the site of the former residential school for Aboriginal children. And so, what is the latest information on the archaeological assessment of this site?
Cremata: It’s about time you asked me, I was just talking to manager (Brad) Ryan yesterday trying to figure out the timeline. So, first of all, we have to go through the process of getting this contract approved at the table. Or if the assembly decides that a different direction is warranted, and they do, and we can’t really move on to the next phase until that particular issue is resolved. Then it’s a matter of determining who is going to do the work and planning the work. I think it has to be done, if I’m not mistaken, before the third week of June. But obviously we want to be able to use the RV park for RVs, especially if we’re going to see a massive influx of independent travellers. So the sooner the better. (WEB: I don’t know how ground penetrating radar works. Does the ground have to be odd? Can it be done tomorrow? I really don’t know the answer to this question, because I don’t know the science behind it But I know it’s a high priority and something we need to do sooner rather than later.
KHNS: Yes, we will definitely follow that. (WEB: Another item on the agenda is a grant to this radio station. So in the spirit of transparency, this is a community funding grant that our nonprofit owner, Lynn Canal Broadcasting, has requested from the Municipality of Skagway for $30,000. And that is to fund KHNS’s Skagway office with the necessary equipment to provide coverage there. And, of course, our newsroom will always maintain our independence and our impartiality. What does the assembly envisage with this one?
Cremata: Well, just like in previous years, the assembly has to consider whether or not this is a good use of municipal funds. I mean, that’s really what it’s all about. For me personally, as someone who lives in upper Lynn Canal, not as the mayor as just a person, especially during the pandemic, I was impressed with the quality of work KHNS did. And also recognize it as one of our most vital links for spreading emergency information. Think back to during the pandemic, and it’s easy to forget now that we’re coming out of it, but you go back in time, when you focus on how that real-time news coverage was essential for us when we were coping to a major crisis. And I feel like both Haines and Skagway, the leadership in both communities was exceptional. The communication was outstanding, but being able to get that voice out to the communities is challenging, especially for a government entity living in a small town, it’s key.) So, you know, I’ll always have my support, but it comes back really at the assembly, but that’s what the assembly is supposed to do, is determine what they think the government should fund, and then make those choices.
KHNS: Well, we appreciate that. Thank you Mayor Cremata, thank you for your time.
Cremata: Thank you. Have a nice day.