By Aly De Angelus
Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) expects the Klondike Highway will likely remain closed until Tuesday due to continued winter weather conditions and potential avalanche hazard. Avalanche control was scheduled to start Monday afternoon.
Skagway residents have endured travel delays since Saturday due to heavy snowfall. The National Weather Service issued another winter storm warning for Juneau and Southeast Alaska from 6 p.m. Tuesday to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Forecasters expect 12 to 24 inches of snow, with 50 mph winds.
Reports indicate that Skagway received more than double the last prediction of 10 to 16 inches of snow issued by the National Weather Service for Jan. 24-26.
A loss of ferry service added to the problem for travelers. Though the state chartered a vessel to carry stranded travelers from Juneau to Haines and Skagway on Monday, the Skagway School decided not to put its basketball teams on the boat. The players and coaches have been trapped in Juneau since Saturday, due to a mechanical breakdown of the only ferry scheduled to serve Skagway for a week, the Matanuska.
“We made the decision based on real-time weather data; in the end it just wasn’t worth the risk in these kinds of decisions,” the Skagway School said in a press release Monday. The teams are staying in a Juneau hotel and are scheduled to fly home Tuesday, weather permitting.
Along with the basketball teams, other Skagway residents are stranded in Canada and Alaska, including Fire Chief Joe Rau in Whitehorse and Borough Manager Brad Ryan in Juneau.
In addition to the weather closure, Sam Dapcevich, public information officer of DOT’s Southcoast region, said the Klondike Highway will be closed until the hazmat cleanup team can reach the Petro Marine fuel truck and ore truck that have been stuck on the road since late Saturday afternoon.
Dapcevich said responders should be able to clear the site and retrieve the trucks late afternoon Monday, along with a string of civilian vehicles left behind, then shuttle them back to Skagway before dark. These vehicles were abandoned on the Klondike Highway due to a punctured fuel tank on the Petro Marine tanker that leaked approximately 500 gallons of fuel.
“It sounds like tow trucks will be coming down from Whitehorse that will be able to assist with clearing out the accident site,” Dapcevich said. “They are trying to clear things up today after they do avalanche mitigation and that would give access to the tanker and ore truck accident site.”
Dapcevich said the avalanche team will most likely drop charges to cause smaller avalanches in an effort to prevent a larger incident from occurring.
Petro Marine Service in Skagway was unavailable for comment as of 12: 15 p.m. Monday. DOT reports indicate that the fuel spill may be less than 500 gallons.