In response to White Pass President Berto’s Skagway News (May 28) editorial submission:
The Municipality of Skagway (MOS) appreciates the commitment expressed by Mr. Berto on behalf of White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) to clean up the contamination of the ore terminal.
The residents of Skagway have repeatedly made clear that they believe White Pass is responsible for remediation of the Ore Basin in its entirety, as legacy contamination occurred during their lengthy term as leaseholder. As both a local government and landowner, the MOS has a duty to listen to its residents and protect the quality of its lands. This means that elected officials have the duty to ensure the ore terminal is cleaned up and will not pose a risk to the future health and welfare of the residents of Skagway or our guests.
Unfortunately, the ore terminal basin and uplands have been significantly contaminated with heavy metals and other contaminants.
To use the contaminated sediment in the ore terminal basin as an example, a 2015 report found concentrations of zinc as high as 12,300 mg/kg (thirty times the cleanup objective of 410 mg/kg), concentrations of lead as high as 10,000 mg/kg (twenty-two times the cleanup objective of 450 mg/kg), concentrations of mercury as high as 6.6 mg/kg (sixteen times the cleanup objective of 0.41 mg/kg), concentrations of cadmium as high as 16.4 mg/kg (more than three times the cleanup objective of 5.1 mg/kg), and concentrations of silver as high as 9.59 mg/kg (more than one and a half times the cleanup objective of 6.1 mg/kg).
Additionally, WP&YR’s 2018 risk assessment showed only three of eleven samples adequately performed in the three toxicity tests for biological criteria. In light of the well documented severe heavy-metals contamination of the sediment in the ore terminal basin, WP&YR’s remediation efforts must be carefully designed and executed to protect Skagway’s public lands as well as the health and safety of its residents and guests.
WP&YR has proposed to dredge sediment from the ore basin and lay down a layer of clean fill to remediate this severely contaminated sediment.
The MOS supports the general approach taken by WP&YR but has the following three basic concerns:
● WP&YR did not test for contaminated sediment under the ore loading arm or dock. Since these areas seem likely to be the most contaminated portions of the ore basin, the MOS has requested they be tested. Engineering experts hired by WP&YR claimed that testing under the ore loading arm was not possible. However, the MOS has been informed by multiple engineering companies that testing is not only possible, it’s quite easy.
● WP&YR has not proposed environmental standards to guide its remediation efforts. To ensure the remediation efforts meet appropriate environmental standards, Skagway has requested such standards be established.
● WP&YR did not propose testing after its dredging is complete to ensure the contaminated sediment has been cleaned up. To ensure the contaminated sediment has been cleaned up, Skagway has requested testing after the dredging is complete.
These three concerns are reasonable and relatively easy to accommodate. A few extra tests under the ore loading arm and dock, agreement on clean-up standards and testing after the dredging is complete will ensure Skagway’s public lands as well as the health and safety of its residents and guests are properly protected.
The MOS strongly supports the remediation of the contamination at the ore terminal and continues to work with WP&YR and the appropriate agencies to ensure the job gets done. I am encouraged by Mr. Berto’s recent comments and look forward to working with him to ensure the contamination at the ore terminal is properly cleaned up.