The Municipality of Skagway has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Alaska Industrial Development and Economic Authority and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for communication relating to the Skagway Ore Terminal.
Submitted by Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn on Feb. 29, the requests ask for copies of all public records pertaining to the terminal, including drafts, e-mails and memoranda of conversations, specifically matters pertaining to licensing, compliance, enforcement, sampling, monitoring, analyses, policy formation, notice of violations, contamination and more.
In the request to ADEC, the municipality also asks for records of communication with other government entities such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, the Capstone Mining Corporation, Minto Explorations Ltd., David Hunz of Mineral Services, Carson Dorn. Inc. and a lengthy list of ADEC personnel.
From AIDEA, the municipality has requested records from the aforementioned local entities, as well as AIDEA’s Jim Hemsath, Lori Stender, John Springsteen, Dana Pruhs, Fred Parady and all executive team and board members.
Both have also been requested to present records of consultations and communications between themselves and the municipality as well as the Skagway Traditional Council.
To both entities, the municipality asked to be informed if the cost of searching or copying the records should exceed $2,500, but requested that the fees be waived as the documents are in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of each entity’s ability to protect Skagway from toxic substances.
Mayor Mark Schaefer said they submitted the requests to get some background information on conversations that happened between the requested parties. He said the municipality’s main concern is that operations are running properly and contamination is stopped.
“We are interested in finding out why they think the way they think, particularly regarding the situation at the Ore Terminal,” he said. “We’re not trying to harm anybody. We just don’t want to make a big mess in the harbor.”
AIDEA’S Director of Project Development and Asset Management Jim Hemsath said the company is preparing a response to the request, but will require payment before any information is prepared, as it will cost a great deal.
“The city manager and the borough manager and the borough consultant continue to suggest that we are contaminating, and that’s just not what we do. We just don’t do that,” he said. “Every bit of science that we can come up with would indicate that we are not contributing to the contaminants in the harbor.”
ADEC issued AIDEA a notice of violation last April, due to unpermitted water sources emptying into a storm water infiltration gallery at the terminal. In October, ADEC cleared AIDEA of the violations, saying they had met the imposed requirements. In the Oct. 23 issue of The Skagway News, ADEC Compliance and Enforcement Manager Mike Solter said there was no indication that there is still ongoing contamination in the ore basin.
A call to Solter on Wednesday resulted in the same outcome.
“To my knowledge, nothing has changed from the last time we dealt with it,” he said.
Gary Mendivil, an environmental program specialist in the commissioner’s office, is compiling the records from all requested parties. He said because of the number of records requested, with some programs having files in excess of 1,000, he suspects there will be a cost.
All involved have been notified of the request, and Mendivil suspected to have an estimate of records in their possession by Thursday.
As part of cleaning up contamination in the basin, AIDEA’s ship loader must be demolished so that the slope on which it rests can be capped. Hemsath said AIDEA is open to the possibility of a mobile loader while the capping is taking place, but under one possible mitigation plan from the municipality, refurbishment of equipment isn’t included.
“We’ve agreed to replace the ship loader as part of a much larger project,” he said.
But without a lease, he said AIDEA’s hands are tied. Statutorily they are required to have revenue for any investment they make.
“AIDEA has always made the statement that if we had the lease and the ability to advertise a ship loader, we would replace it as part of the big broader package.”
As for contamination in the harbor, Hemsath said in 1990 AIDEA spent $25 million toward purchasing the terminal and for environmental cleanups. They tore down the terminal in 2003 and didn’t have their first tenant until 2007.
“We put $25 million in with no payback whatsoever but for the aspect of the community.”
“We work really hard with our tenants to make sure that everything they are doing is up to speed,” he said. “We have been in ongoing communication with ADEC because we want to know if there’s a problem. If there is a problem, we need to fix it.”
Skagway Port Commission Chair Tim Bourcy commented on the FOIA requests during an assembly meeting on March 3.
He said he wasn’t sure if it was productive or counterproductive, adding that it’s important for the municipality to focus on cleaning up the harbor and taking care of Skagway’s future.
“We have to be more focused. We have to be together on this because we cannot achieve what we want to achieve without everyone,” he said.
Schaefer said the requests have specific reasons and are not intended to stop any conversations going on.
“If that’s what it does, that’s what it does.”
The municipality requested that the records be delivered within 60 days. Should it take longer, they have asked to be notified.