By Melinda Munson

The Municipality of Skagway (MOS) is hiring for a position that requires a 1.5 mile, 700 vertical foot hike each way to work. 

Three rock slope observers will be contracted to the MOS for 27 weeks during the 2023 tourist season to monitor the Railroad Dock landslide from above, at the Lower Dewey Lake Management area.

The work schedule will be approximately five-10 hour days each week. Contractors will receive a weekly stipend of $2,500.

The observers will “perform slope observations, assist with report preparation, perform analyses and calculations … and be expected to assist in setting up the remote camp including the erection of tents, electric fence, backcountry showers, and other camp maintenance.”

Had Shannon & Wilson, which is overseeing instrumental monitoring, provided the rock slope observers, it would have cost the municipality $800,000. Assemblymember Jay Burnham recused himself from the vote in case he decided to apply. He cannot be both an assembly member and a contractor.

According to Borough Manager Brad Ryan, observer shifts will be scheduled from roughly 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

“…they will be up there primarily to watch the rock slide … and have communication with the traffic controllers on the dock,” Ryan said. “If they hear or see a rockslide begin to happen, they will immediately notify the people that can control the buses down below on the docks. There’s about 12 to 20 seconds from the time you can see or hear one of those rock sides start, until it gets to the docks in a normal situation. Hopefully that never happens with our attenuation measures there.” 

The observers’ secondary job is to take measurements and ensure that instruments are functioning. If an abnormal reading is recorded, they would confirm the reading wasn’t caused by an animal or tree branch. 

Shannon & Wilson will continually monitor the total station, which is located at the ferry station. A protocol will be in place for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska to also check the data. A municipal employee and dispatch will receive automatic alerts.

“…I want to make sure that we have a lot of redundancy in the system,” Ryan said.

Ryan described the use of the spotters as “above a highway standard,” noting it was what geologists recommended.

Assemblymember Sam Bass pointed out the MOS will pay $233,000 for the season for Shannon & Wilson to “monitor the equipment from afar” as well as $250,000 for spotters.

“Is this something you anticipate that we’ll have to do every season? Or is this just this season?” Bass asked.

“I think we’re in this for a while until we can take down that larger rock mass [Ship Rock],” Ryan said. “And you’re gonna hear a push for me to want to move forward with doing that. You’re going to hear that very soon.”