- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

HEALY, Alaska (AP) - The population of Healy will double this summer when about 900 seasonal workers for Holland-America/Princess move into housing at the town’s main intersection.

That process already has begun, with dormitory-style buildings moved from the canyon resort area to Homestead employee housing, 12 miles north of the resorts.

The employees who will live there work for Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and McKinley Chalets Resorts. They will take a bus to and from work every day.

The change has local residents and resort managers concerned. Residents worry about the impact on the community of all those seasonal workers, and resort managers worry about mitigating that impact.

The big change came about because Holland-America/Princess, now known as HAP, purchased the McKinley Chalet Resorts. HAP is the land-based operation for both Holland-America and Princess cruise lines.

Several hundred seasonal workers already were living at the seasonal housing during past summers, but now about 930 seasonal workers will live there.

“Right now, we have a little over 900 beds reserved,” said Tad Whitaker, head of the services division. “One-hundred-thirty of that 930 are transient employees. They’re not here every night, depending on the rail schedule.”

One of the most noticeable changes is increased foot traffic at the busy Healy intersection, as seasonal employees walk to a local grocery and liquor store, and nearby bars and restaurants.

Princess manager Bonnie Westlund said the company already has begun conversation with the Denali Borough about ways to address the increase in summer population, particularly the foot traffic.

“We’re starting talks about bike paths, walking paths, whatever we can do to support the borough. We’re prepared to help get signatures or find ways to help donate,” she said.

Safety is the company’s primary concern, she added.

“It was hard last summer to make a left turn from the spur road onto the highway, because of foot traffic,” said Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker. “And there were 430 employees living there last year. There will be another 500 people over there now. It’s just more challenging, because they do use that intersection to cross.”

There is no stoplight and no crosswalk.

Traffic should be slowed this year and next year by construction, which should help pedestrian traffic.

“We have that time to formulate a plan of what we’d like to see here,” the mayor said. “I would like to see that include pedestrian improvements.”

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