By Melinda Munson

Skagway is one step closer to a $19.9 million grant awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to shore up the landslide area above Railroad Dock. The repeated landslides, which worsened in June 2022, cost the city over $3 million in mitigation costs to prepare for the 2023 season.

The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant (BRIC) is distributed by FEMA through the state. The municipality applied last December.

“We thought this was a long shot,” said Port Director Cody Jennings. “We had a lot of folks advocating on our behalf.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy gave the landslides official emergency designation in September 2022 and Sen. Lisa Murkowski toured the site that same month. In October 2022, Mayor Andrew Cremata visited Washington D.C. with Skagway lobbyist John Walsh.

While excitement is high, Skagway can’t count the money just yet. According to Jennings, the municipality has been “notified of the advancement of final review,” but the award is not yet finalized.

“We’ve passed the first step,” Jennings explained. Next is an environmental and historical review. “We’re learning as we go. This is a new process for us,” Jennings said.

According to Borough manager Brad Ryan, Alaska has not had a BRIC applicant in recent history. Skagway could be the first.

“We believe it will be successful,” he said.

Even with the BRIC money, the municipality will still be short of projected funds needed. Estimates to permanently stabilize the slide area range from $30-$40 million.

It’s unclear when the grant money would become available.

“We don’t know when it will be approved. “It’s going to take some work and some time,” Ryan said.

Logistics for the 2024 season will be much the same as they were this year on Railroad Dock. Aft ship passengers will be bused to the upper Small Boat Harbor parking lot and the forward ship will again use tenders to transport passengers to the Small Boat Harbor south ramp. The landslide area will continue to be electronically monitored as well as utilize human look-outs.

Mayor Andrew Cremata gave kudos to local staff for their effort on the grant.

“The real hard work was performed by Manager Ryan, Port Manager Jennings, and municipal staff, as these are highly competitive grants that require a ton of legwork to secure,” he said.

Jennings praised the grant writing talents of Kaitlyn Jared, port administrative manager, and shared (perhaps) an unintentional rockslide pun.

“It was definitely a team effort. We’re grateful for everyone who chipped in,” she said.