By Melinda Munson

The Skagway Borough Assembly enacted June 17 what might be the state’s first municipality standards outlining maximum amounts of contaminants allowed in soil/sediment on borough owned property. Alaska currently has a state standard for soil, but not sediment.

“It seems like something we should have done a long time ago,” said Borough Manager Brad Ryan, who doesn’t know of another city which has similar legislation. 

“The community demands this,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata regarding Skagway’s ongoing harbor mitigation.

“What constitutes clean?” he asked. 

It’s a question that has plagued the city for 40 years since lead zinc-concentrate from Faro, Yukon, transported by White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR), entered Skagway’s valley. The ore terminal, built by WP&YR on municipality tidelands is of particular concern. As the state has no guidelines for sediment, the clean up standards are left to the interested parties.

To complicate matters, WP&YR’s 55-year waterfront lease will expire in 2023, with control returning to the borough.

No one testified about the matter at the June 17 meeting but Bob Berto, President of WP&YR, submitted a letter to the assembly.

“The work behind this ordinance has been done quickly and behind closed doors in executive session,” he said, stating that his company has shared scientific findings on remediation since 2018.

According to Ryan, the soil/sediment standards ordinance, based on Washington State law, was first introduced at the May 4 Ports and Harbor Advisory Board meeting. It underwent its first reading at the June 3 assembly meeting.

Berto expressed concerns about the borough’s ability to manage the ordinance.

“Respectfully, the Municipality of Skagway — like most other municipalities across the country — simply does not have the resources, the size or the scientific expertise needed to manage the kind of program that would be necessary to effectively and responsibly carry out and enforce this proposed ordinance,” he said. 

“This proposed ordinance would put a significant burden on the borough manager and the borough assembly to suddenly become environmental experts and make complex technical decisions … Identifying appropriate cleanup standards for a given site involves a highly technical, intensive analysis that should be made by personnel who specialize in the environmental sciences.”

According to Ryan, the municipality conferred with three different consulting groups, one a firm in Juneau that specializes in environmental work.

“They didn’t have any concerns with it. Certainly some comments but no concerns with it at all,” he said.

Cremata doesn’t see the new law as a stumbling block for the current clean up efforts.

“We’re not trying to stop them. I would love for White Pass to start on the remediation project. We’re not that far apart, so let’s get started,” he said.

Ordinance 21-07R passed unanimously, prior to an executive session to discuss harbor remediation.