Moving a used gondola system from Austria to the Juneau ski area will cost significantly more than originally anticipated.
On Wednesday, the Juneau Assembly narrowly approved spending an additional $500,000 to bring it to Juneau and awarded the transportation contract to Lynden Logistics.
During most talks about buying the gondola, Mayor Beth Weldon was evasive. Wednesday’s special Assembly meeting was no exception.
“Since we now seem to own this gondola, what will happen if we don’t pass this order?” Weldon asked.
“We would be in a very difficult position, having spent a lot of money buying and owning a gondola on another continent without the funds to move it,” City Manager Rorie Watt replied. “So I don’t know exactly what we would do. … I can’t think of a good result.
The city had requested contracts to store the gondola in Europe for possible resale, an option desired by the Assembly in the event that it decided to abandon the project. But according to Dave Scanlan, general manager of the Eaglecrest ski resort, no one bid for the contract.
The mayor ended up voting yes.
Assembly members Carole Triem and Alicia Hughes-Skandijs voted no. Hughes-Skandijs acknowledged that his vote made no sense given the situation.
“But even so, I can’t in good conscience invest more public money in a project that I don’t think we should have in the first place,” she said. “I feel like it’s a bad road for the city. I also think it was a bad process that we went through.
Eaglecrest ski resort officials asked for $2 million to buy the used gondola system in February, outside of the Assembly’s normal process to prioritize competing demands for big-ticket projects. Eaglecrest’s managing director described it as a rare opportunity that would save millions over buying new, and shave years off the goal of expanding summer operations.
The contract to ship it from Pruggern, Austria to Eaglecrest Ski Area will cost $845,000, more than double the original estimate of $400,000. The contract award passed without objection. The system weighs several hundred tons and will require more than 25 trucks to climb the mountain.
The loading process in Austria is expected to start around May 20.
Eaglecrest officials say the gondola will serve both winter and summer customers. The proposed tower locations would make more winter terrain accessible to alpine and Nordic skiers.
Ski resort officials predict that revenue from summer visitors will eventually eliminate the ski resort’s need for local taxpayer support.
There is no funding in place yet for the gondola installation, although Goldbelt Inc. would like to enter into an agreement to fund it. CEO McHugh Pierre recently told KINY that he was in the very early stages of negotiations with city officials. Watt told the House he was very comfortable that a deal had been reached.