The rest of Skagway’s cruise ship season will be limited by the closure of the town’s biggest dock. Following two rockslides near the railroad dock, the company that owns the facility is restricting its use.
Skagway normally has room for four big cruise ships. But for the rest of this season, it will only be able to accommodate three.
White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad announced the decision to continue restricting the use of the railroad dock on Friday. It comes down to potential hazards made clear by two recent rockslides near the dock.
Tyler Rose is with White Pass, which owns the dock and acts as Skagway’s cruise terminal operator. He says the decision was influenced partly by a geotechnical engineer’s evaluation of the slide area.
“It was an overall risk assessment based on the geotechnical information, based on the weather patterns, based on our safety protocols, based on the cruise lines,” Rose said. “It seemed to be the prudent decision for us to make given everything that had happened.”
Rose declined to share information about the engineer’s assessment. But Borough Manager Scott Hahn did explain some of the findings at an assembly meeting Thursday. Both the city and White Pass had engineers look at the area.
“There is rock that we are concerned about that [the engineer] believes may continue to come down that chute,” Hahn said.
He referred to comments Skagway residents have made on Facebook about a large rock on the hillside they’re worried will eventually crash down onto the dock. Hahn said the engineers don’t think it’s a problem.
“You can see that from down below it looks very ominous. But it’s part of the bedrock of the mountain,” Hahn said. “According to the White Pass engineer, that looked fine. He doesn’t see anything in that at this time to suggest there’s a problem. There is a problem to the south in this gully that looks like it’s going to come down.”
Hahn said the city, White Pass and the engineers will meet again to talk about a mitigation plan. Hahn and Rose said it might involve installing more protections, like fencing to block falling rocks. It might also include moving some of the material before it falls on its own.
“I just know that we’ve got the best people involved, we’re highly involved day to day, and we will find a path forward that I will report to you,” Hahn told the assembly.
The assembly talked about the alarm that was raised on sites like Facebook after the rockslides. Some members suggested the city be more active in sharing information in these situations.
They also asked Hahn to make the city engineer’s report public once it is done.
Since the day following the most recent slide, White Pass has been using the railroad dock in a limited capacity. They’ve been mooring ships at the far end of the facility and tendering in the passengers on small boats. That allows for one ship at the railroad dock, one at the ore dock, and one at the Broadway dock.
That leaves the question of what will happen on the three four-ship days remaining on Skagway’s cruise calendar. Rose says White Pass is talking with cruise lines to see if they can adjust schedules to move ships to less busy days.
“We’re trying to see if we can change itineraries so that we don’t have any misses and we’ll be able to get ships to come in on days when there is a berth available,” Rose said. “Ideally, if we could wave a magic wand, we’d do it to where we didn’t have to tender at all.”
On the day of the Sept. 5 rockslide, two ships were diverted from Skagway. One went to Icy Strait and the other to Haines. Rose says diverting ships is a last resort, but it is a possibility.
Haines Tourism Director Carolann Wooton says Haines is ready and willing to take any ships that can’t dock in Skagway.