A pair of resolutions looking at remediation of contamination in the ore terminal basin came before the Borough Assembly on May 4, but only one survived the ensuing discussion.
The first resolution the assembly looked at, 17-11R, supports contamination cleanup of in the ore terminal basin. Mayor Mark Schaefer said the resolution is intended to put out an affirmative statement to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) that the borough supports cleanup of the contamination by March 1, 2023.
“We’ve certainly discussed this issue for a long, long time, but never resolved to make an official statement,” Schaefer said.
The resolution states “the municipality believes it has not caused any of the contamination in the harbor, and expects PARN [the Pacific and Arctic Railway and Navigation Company, which does business as White Pass & Yukon Route] and any other potentially responsible parties identified by PARN or ADEC to fulfill their legal and moral obligations to conduct the cleanup prior to the expiration of the existing leases in 2023.”
The second resolution, 17-12R, stated the assembly recognizes the importance of collaboration in order to advance the remediation, and that the municipality is willing to contribute financially towards said cleanup – provided a written remediation agreement is in place with PARN before June 30, 2018.
Former Mayor and Port Commission Member Tim Bourcy said the second resolution shows White Pass that the municipality is fully willing to work together on this issue, but not all assembly members agreed that the timing was right to make that statement.
Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. said before the borough commits to providing funds for the remediation, it should let the port consultant firm Moffatt & Nichol finish its study and make a recommendation on how to move forward.
Assembly Member Orion Hanson said he understands Steve Burnham’s point, but added that the municipality has several million in grant money to dredge, and he doesn’t see any problem with the assembly declaring intent to have a “copacetic relationship with the biggest employer and industry in this town.”
During the discussion, Steve Burnham moved to amend 17-11R to include the statement, “The municipality of Skagway encourages remediation of the ore basin as soon as possible, and no later than June 30, 2018.”
Steve Burnham said with that amendment, the assembly could hold onto 17-12R and see what Moffatt & Nichol recommends.
“We may decide we’re going to talk with the stakeholders on the waterfront when we have something to talk about, when we have something to offer,” Steve Burnham said.
Steve Burnham’s amendment and 17-11R both passed 5-0.
Assembly Member Jay Burnham said the statement 17-12R would make is already common knowledge in the community.
“We’ve got to start doing it [remediation], and I don’t see that this resolution, pass or fail, really makes any difference on talking to White Pass and saying, ‘lets clean up the harbor,’” Jay Burnham said.
Assembly Member Spencer Morgan said the point of 17-12R is that it makes it known that the assembly is willing to contribute financially to the cleanup.
The second resolution, 17-12R, did not pass.
The ordinance failed in a 3-2 vote, with Jay and Steve Burnham against. A motion needs the support of at least four assembly members to pass muster.
In response to the resolutions and the assembly’s discussion, White Pass executive director of human resources and strategic planning Tyler Rose said the issue of contamination is important to the company, just as it is to the municipality.
“As I’ve stated before, all of our local management lives here, it’s not this removed entity, and we want to know what exactly is going on down there, what steps forward we can take,” Rose said. “And [we] understand the community looks at this as a big problem that needs to be solved, and we’re in the process of moving ahead and solving it.
“We’re moving forward right now with the sampling analysis plan and the completion of the risk assessment to find out what the appropriate remediation action is.”
White Pass has hired Golder Associates Ltd. to perform a survey on the contaminated area, which is expected to be completed in the fall.
Golder will be looking at the effects the contamination could have on marine and human life, as well as other factors.
“I think when you get into an event like this you want to make sure you don’t do any harm, or more harm, and quite frankly just know exactly what you’re dealing with before proceeding,” Rose said.