A rockslide near Skagway’s largest cruise ship dock Saturday didn’t injure anyone. But it drew attention to the potential danger of an active slide area neighboring a bustling port.
The dock adjacent to the slide area, called the railroad dock, is owned and operated by the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, a major tourist attraction. The railroad has a train track running down the dock that picks up passengers and takes them on scenic rides.
Towering on the east side of the dock is a steep cliff prone to landslides. On Aug. 25, it rained close to half an inch in Skagway. The next morning at about 6:30 a.m., a rockslide occurred. Two ships, the Volendam and Island Princess, had just tied up to the dock.
“We made the decision to move the ships out of an abundance of care and safety,” said White Pass official Tyler Rose.
The ships were relocated to Skagway’s other two cruise docks. Meanwhile, White Pass reviewed the damage, which Rose says was minimal. A large rock struck and damaged a railing meant to protect the facility.
Rose says in addition to cleaning up the debris, White Pass had geotechnical engineers assess the slide area. White Pass already has fences on the cliff and a catchment in place to shield the dock from slides.
“They’ve done the assessment and basically said the fencing at the upper level served its purpose,” Rose said. “The excessive rains were a large causation…there was obviously an escape that came through there. And the initial analysis was that everything appears fine.”
Rose says the engineers gave the green light for ships to continue tying up at the railroad dock. He says White Pass expects to receive more information from the engineers about whether they should implement additional protections.
“That is an active slide area,” Rose said. “We’ve put mechanisms in place to mitigate that risk, as you can see by the infrastructure that’s been put in that area. We’re monitoring it constantly. We will do what is best to address the safety issues down there because safety is paramount to our organization.”
“It has raised our attention to this issue,” said Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn.
Hahn says he’s been approached by some assembly and community members with concerns about the rockslide. Hahn talked to White Pass Monday about the engineer’s assessment.
“You never know for sure in any situation, but they felt that it was safe and so that’s good to know,” Hahn said. “I’m also looking into seeing whether we can find someone who does that same type of work in case the assembly wishes to have a second opinion on that.”
Hahn says he would need direction from the assembly as a whole to seek a second opinion on the stability of the slide area.
For now, Rose says things are back to normal on the railroad dock after the temporary disruption. The dock was scheduled to have at least one ship for the rest of the week following Saturday’s slide.