Dependent on getting regulatory approvals and then going to bid for the work, the White Pass & Yukon Route could have a contractor dredging out contaminated sediment from around the Skagway ore terminal next fall.

The plan is to remove up to 10,000 cubic yards from the seafloor — about the same volume as three Olympic-size swimming pools — using a barge-mounted mechanical dredger, not a suction dredger. The contaminated sediment would be taken to a licensed disposal site, likely in Washington state or Oregon, said Tyler Rose, of WP&YR. There are no approved sites in Alaska.

Public comments on the WP&YR permit application are due by Dec. 6.

“Construction, including mobilization and demobilization, is estimated to take six weeks to complete, assuming no weather delays,” according to the company’s cleanup plan consultant’s report.

The preferred work window is after the end of the cruise ship season and before winter gets bad. “Those weather delays are killers on winter projects,” Rose said Nov. 21.

After the dredging, the company proposes to cover the 19,000-square-foot area with up to 1,100 yards of clean sand, to cap whatever contamination may remain, and then test the area to determine the results and if any further work is needed. The cover would be a minimum of a foot deep.

            Rose said the company hopes to have the necessary federal and state approvals by June, to allow for contractor bidding and getting equipment on site for the work next fall.

            In its application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency responsible for permitting dredging and other such work in navigable waters of the U.S., the company’s cleanup consultant said the work is proposed to “address legacy contamination associated with spillage from historical ore loading operations.”

A 2018 consultant’s report for the railroad determined there is lead, zinc and mercury contamination in the harbor sediment, mostly concentrated just east of the ore terminal, between the ore dock and the Broadway dock. 

“The proposed project will remove the majority of the mass of lead contamination from the site,” the Army Corps said in its notice.

“Ultimately, the project will result in environmental improvements over existing conditions within Skagway Harbor,” said the application filed by Anchor QEA, of Bellingham, Washington, on behalf of WP&YR.

The plan said the project would remove up to 75 percent of the contamination, though no dredging would be done under the ship loader or pier where access is limited.

The proposed work focuses on the seafloor around the loader, where past studies have shown the highest concentration of contaminants. Anchor QEA’s presentation to the Skagway Borough assembly Sept. 24 said hydraulic dredging would be unfeasible, due to dock pilings and other access issues.

“The project has been designed to minimize impacts … through the use of mechanical dredging instead of hydraulic dredging, to reduce generation of contaminated water,” according to the Army Corps notice.

The work will not result in long-term damage to essential fish habitat in the area, the Army Corps said, adding that any “short-term, highly localized” impacts would be insignificant.

The borough owns the ore dock, which is leased to WP&YR. The ore loader on the dock is owned by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The work does not require municipal approval. The dredging would occur in the basin area leased by WP&YR.

The Skagway port commission has stated in the past that it would prefer for the state to replace the ore loader, allowing for access under the dock to clean up past spills, followed by installation of a new containerized loading operation that would be less likely to spill.

No money has been appropriated for removing and replacing the ore loader system.

In addition to the Army Corps permit, WP&YR needs approval from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Public comments must include the public notice number POA-1981-00334 and may be submitted to the Army Corps by email to matthew.t.brody@usace.army.mil or by mail to:

Juneau Field Office

Regulatory Division (1145)

CEPOA-RD

PO Box 22270, Juneau, AK 99802

No public hearings on the application are scheduled, though the public or other regulatory agencies may request a hearing — but the request must be filed with the Army Corps in writing and provide the reasons for a public hearing.