By Melinda Munson
Gov. Mike Dunleavy gave Skagway’s recent landslides, which shut down the forward berth of Railroad Dock and cost the city approximately 125,000 cruise passengers this season, official emergency designation on Sept. 15.
Mayor Andrew Cremata described the emergency declaration as “an action that frees up resources and money to help with rockslide mitigation and, hopefully, some of the costs associated with ensuring we have four berths in 2023.”
According to Cremata, LIDAR (light detection and ranging) data became available around Sept. 9 and “engineers are doing their best to interpret it.”
“Engineers are working on a design to safely bring down rock and debris from the mountain, followed by construction intended to further stabilize the mountainside,” he said. “It remains to be seen how much any plan will cost. If a comprehensive plan is too expensive, we may need to pivot to a more affordable and less comprehensive solution.”
Despite the 2023 tourist season fast approaching and hopes for a fully functioning Railroad Dock, Manager Brad Ryan isn’t ready to begin developing a road to prepare for mitigation.
“There has been considerable discussion on the pros and cons of developing the Lower Dewey Lake road in order to access the rockslide area,” he said. I understand the desire to move quickly to mitigate the hazard area. However, without a mitigation plan design from our experts that details what actions should be taken, it is still not clear to me the type and quantity of machines that will be needed to conduct the work.”
Ryan stated he would like to involve legal counsel with any proposed actions. He noted it takes 30-45 days for the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a Nationwide Permit authorization.
Cremata said that even more important than how to mitigate the mountainside is how to secure the town’s economy.
“The bigger question is how will we ensure that four berths are active in 2023. With help from White Pass, we have an actionable plan that will put post-Panamax ships at the Ore Dock, which allows two smaller ships to dock at Railroad while avoiding the primary slide area … It appears as though permitting agencies will help fast-track this process, which is fantastic news and ensures we will have a solid 2023 cruise ship season.”
A memo outlining the municipality’s proposed plan with White Pass to increase moorage can be found on page two.
The plan is estimated to cost $6 million, with $4.5 million coming from the port development revenue bond, Proposition One, if passed.
“I’m hopeful that the other $1.5 million can be paid with emergency relief money but this is unclear at the moment. It’s important to note that financial relief is unlikely to come in right away, so the MOS may need to foot the bill and seek reimbursement, which may take years,” Cremata said.