This story has been updated to note the city did not receive any bids to store the gondola in Austria, not Juneau as originally reported.
Shipping a gondola purchased for Eaglecrest Ski Area from Austria is going to cost the city more than twice as much as estimated — and frustrated Juneau Assembly members and administrators agree there is no choice but to pay.
Also, the city can’t find anyone willing to store the gondola in Austria.
The city signed a $1.34 million contract last month to purchase the 2,430-meter-long Doppelmayr lift built in 1989 from Galsterberg Ski Area. City Manager Rorie Watt told the Assembly at a meeting Wednesday night the original estimate to ship the gondola to Juneau was $400,000, but the lowest bid submitted was from Lynden Logistics for $845,163.50 — and that came after there were no bids by the original deadline that had to be extended.
The only other bid was for about $1.12 million.
In a joint interview during a break, Watt and City Finance Manager Jeff Rogers said there are difficulties accurately estimating shipping costs for such an item, especially given current complications such as a global transport and supply crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Beth Weldon asked Watt if the purchase of the gondola is final — it is and it’s being disassembled in anticipation of arriving in Juneau by May 20 — and what happens if the extra money is not provided?
“We would be in a very difficult position having spent the funds to purchase this gondola,” Watt said. “I cannot think of a good outcome.”
The Assembly approved $500,000 in supplemental funds for the extra shipping and related costs by a 5-2 vote, with Assembly members Carole Triem and Alicia Hughes-Skandijs opposed.
“With money committed what sense does it make not to spend this money tonight….even though I can’t in good conscience put more money toward a process I don’t feel good about in the first place,” said Hughes-Skandijs, who also voted against the purchase of the gondola.
While Triem said “I can’t wait for the day we never have to talk about this again,” the Assembly inevitably is going to face another problem with it soon since the dilemma of where to store it needs to be resolved. There was no discussion about it Wednesday beyond Watt mentioning the absence of bids.
An update was provided on an agreement that may relieve some of the financial sting, as Watt said discussions are progressing with Goldbelt Corp. about providing up to $10 million to help cover installation and operating costs. In exchange, Goldbelt would receive an unspecified portion of revenues during the summer, in anticipation of the gondola and other upgrades turning Eaglecrest into a year-round tourist destination.
“I feel very comfortable that a deal is achievable,” Watt said. He acknowledged “there is some thought among the public there may be a control issue at Eaglecrest,” which is being kept in mind during the discussions.
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org.