By DAN FOX
Port Consultant Moffatt & Nichol returned to Skagway on June 15 with a final presentation of the draft report for short-term solutions at the waterfront. The consultant recommended moving forward with a proposed update option to the Ore Dock facilities.
That option, dubbed 3b, would see a new 50×175-foot floating dock constructed at the Ore Terminal, between the existing dock and the shiploader. Moffatt & Nichol consultants estimated that 3b would cost an around $14.5 million in 2017 dollars. This upgrade, if completed by summer 2019, would aid the municipality in accommodating ships of 1,100 feet and greater.
“Larger ships have been, and continue to replace the smaller ships that are in this marketplace,” Scott Lagueux of Moffatt & Nichol said at the Borough Assembly meeting on June 15.
Skagway officials have not only been told this by their consultants, but by other sources as well. A May 3 letter from Cruise Lines International Association – North West & Canada president Greg Wirtz told the assembly that, in order to keep up with the growing market, it is “important that the existing facilities are upgraded to accommodate the larger ships coming to Alaska.”
The solutions discussed in the report were focused mainly on the immediate need to accommodate the larger cruise vessels. On the topic of economic industries beyond cruise ships, Lagueux said mining provides “long term promise,” but short term challenges, such as commodity prices and the times of year that the smelters are operating.
While he acknowledged the community’s desire for the flexibility mining revenue could bring, Lagueux said updates to that aspect of the port might have to wait until the long term planning occurs.
For a timeline, Shaun McFarlane of Moffatt & Nichol said it could take anywhere between nine-16 months to get permitting for the project straightened out, nine months for offsite fabrication of the floating dock and gangway and six months for the onsite construction of the ore dock improvements. That schedule would take the project right up to the summer 2019 cruise season, according to McFarlane.
Assembly Member Tim Cochran expressed concerns that the depth of the basin currently beside the Ore Dock wouldn’t be enough for the larger ships.
McFarlane said consultants have heard several takes on the situation, but felt confident that the proposed 37 feet would be sufficient. He added that the 3b concept being presented was still at an early planning level, and the details of the proposal will be sussed out further in the design phases.
A key facet to the discussion is access to the property; working with the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to get the improvements in place by summer 2019 was another topic discussed by the assembly and the consultants.
The final recommendations from Moffatt & Nichol boil down into several main initiatives. First is advancing the ore dock improvements. The consultants recommended obligating all available grant monies for the development, and finding a way to fund the remaining costs. The municipality will also need to pursue a means to implement the Ore Dock improvements with White Pass.
Second in the recommendations is to address the contamination of the Ore Terminal Basin, which would require a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with White Pass that would establish a way forward on the cleanup issue. The assembly recently appointed Assembly Member Orion Hanson and Cochran to begin negotiations with White Pass regarding remediation in the Ore Terminal Basin. It had also, by way of Mayor Mark Schaefer, sent White Pass President John Finlayson a letter, which urged the railroad president to engage in a substantive meeting on the issue by June 15.
Finlayson replied with a letter of his own on June 15, which stated White Pass is working on a proposal the company believes would “comprehensively address these issues facing both the community and White Pass.” Finlayson said the proposal would be presented to Cochran, Hanson and Borough Attorney Bob Blasco by June 25.
A few days after the June 15 meeting, the Port Consultant Steering Committee convened to discuss the consultants’ report further.
For a little over an hour, the committee members discussed aspects of the report they thought could use strengthening. Committee Member Tim Bourcy mentioned getting information addressing the Alaska Marine Highway System, Petro Marine Services, Temsco and others.
“I know it’s a focused thing, but it [the report] is supposed to be comprehensive,” Bourcy said, adding that the municipality needs to make sure the stakeholders around the waterfront are engaged.
The committee passed a motion to accept the draft report, with a recording of the steering committee meeting and port planning comments memorialized in writing in hopes of getting a more robust final product.
Moffatt & Nichol will return to Skagway within the month to present information from their expanded scope of work, which includes ideas for port governance, business best practices and more.