Two cruise ships tied up at port, as seen from the hill high above the Railroad Dock during the summer. PHOTO BY ANDREW CREMATA

By DAN FOX
EDITOR

At the very end of the summer cruise season in 2017, a series of rockslides hampered operations at the White Pass & Yukon Route’s Railroad Dock. These tumbles of earth resulted in damage being done to some infrastructure on that side of the port, and the closure of the dock for the remainder of the season.

As 2018’s tourist-laden summer draws near, White Pass says it is taking efforts to mitigate risk from future slides of earth, stone and debris.

The protective fence covering the most active chute on the mountains above the Railroad Dock is being replaced with a significantly larger version. The new fence will be 175 feet long by 35 feet high.

“It’s substantially improved technology from 1994/1995 when the last one [fence] went up,” said White Pass Executive Director of Human Resources and Strategic Planning Tyler Rose.

Looking at the mountain from near the Ferry Terminal, a pair of rockslide chutes can be seen near overhanging the Railroad Dock.

In years past, Rose said the northern of these was the more active one, necessitating the currently-in-place ground-level fence that was installed in the early 2000s. Now, the southern chute is the more temperamental of the two, and is the source of the multiple slides from 2017. The new fence on the southern chute will overlap the lower fence as well – in the past, there had been open space between the two older protective fences.

White Pass estimates the new fence should be installed by the end of the first week in April.

“It will be done before the cruise season,” Rose said.

Rose said White Pass has received questions as to whether it could simply stabilize the mountain – blast or remove the unstable materials present and eliminate the problem – but Rose said there is too much material to stabilize what is up there.

“It’s a big boulder field, there’s really no way to stabilize it,” Rose said. “And so we’re kind of in the protection mode, which is we’re going to dig out the bottom, and fencing barriers, and limiting it so we can contain it to where it doesn’t do any harm.”

Connected to the prevention aspect is movement monitoring of the mountainside.

White Pass’s engineer put together several charts overlaying factors like rainfall, temperature and seismic activity to attempt to pinpoint a correlation to the rockslides, and Rose said White Pass will do several surveys a year to monitor the movement above the Railroad Dock. Once the new protective fence is in place, survey prisms will be installed to help track changes in the mountaintop.

While the protective upgrades should be in-place before the cruise season, Borough Manager Scott Hahn did raise a complaint about the rockslide situation at the Feb. 1 assembly meeting.

Hahn said he’d reached out to White Pass several times for an update on the rockslide, but hadn’t received word from the railroad until a week or so before the Feb. 1 meeting.

“But they’re already doing work, and that’s not a good way of going about business,” Hahn said.

During the public comments at that Feb. 1 meeting, Rose responded to this, saying that dealing with the situation is a “priority for everyone, and White Pass has treating it as such.”