By Melinda Munson

After a 40-year wait, Skagway’s first cleanup project started in the Ore Basin late February and ended mid- April.

In the final year of its 55-year waterfront lease from the Municipality of Skagway, White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad (WP&YR) hired Turnagain Marine Construction to remove approximately 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and cap the ocean floor with a layer of sand.

The pollution, resulting from shipments of lead zinc-concentrate from Faro, Yukon, has been a point of contention between WP&YR and the municipality.

WP&YR describes the project as remediation. The municipality tends to use phrases such as “early action removal.” 

“It’s a good start to the remediation process,” Mayor Andrew Cremata said.

“We’re happy to see them taking action,” said Borough Manager Brad Ryan. “We’re happy to see them removing some of the contaminated materials.”

Tyler Rose, executive director of human resources and strategic planning for WP&YR, declined to disclose how much the company spent on the contract.

“It’s a substantial project with a substantial cost,” he said.

Per the work plan found HERE, the contaminated sediment is scooped up and placed onto a barge with a fiber lining, where the water is allowed to drain out. Once dewatered, the material is taken to a waterproof area of the ship where it is mixed with cement for stabilization. The mixture is then placed in super sacks, large impermeable bags, as a secondary containment. Finally, the material is transported to a waste management facility in Arlington, Oregon.

According to Jason Davis, president of Turnagain Marine, testing was done as the sediment was removed and mixed with cement to make sure it was “properly stabilized.” Davis said there was oversight from the design engineer (hired by WP&YR) to make sure samples were collected at correct intervals and test results were submitted to the project owner and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

The dredging has some residents questioning the effects on harbor health.

“We have been observing the remediation of the OrBasin, and that’s because there are contaminated heavy metals in there: lead, zinc, other things,” said Assemblymember Orion Hanson at the April 7 assembly meeting.

“Folks, don’t harvest shell food and eat it right now. Don’t go get shrimp or crab. We’re trying to come up with a public service announcement about what’s safe, when, and how far away from the Port of Skagway. But be smart about it. Don’t put your crab pots in the vicinity of the Skagway Port right now. We all know people who have gotten cancer. Just be reasonable … go farther away,” he cautioned.

Ryan recommends avoiding harvesting in the harbor altogether, because of gray water expelled from the wastewater plant.

Davis emphasized that water quality monitoring was performed throughout the dredging operation “and at no point did we exceed water turbidity standards.”

Turnagain’s job is complete and they have no further work orders. Davis said WP&YR did the project voluntarily and was “instrumental in working with DEC and the designer to make sure that everything was done properly.”

“We would like to see them [WP&YR] sample the basin to document the level of remaining contaminants,” Ryan said.

When asked if the company had any plans for additional remediation, Rose answered, “Not at this time.”

Along with WP&YR, the state also named Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and the municipality as partially responsible for the cleanup of Skagway Port.

The municipality receives approximately $130,000 per year from the WP&YR lease.