State regulators visited Skagway Wednesday to brief the community on efforts to clean up lead, heavy metals and other legacy contamination around the waterfront Ore Dock. That’s before its possible reactivation for use by the Minto Mine over the border.
Consultants hired by White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad gave a sketch for a two-year plan to clean up the site around Skagway’s ore terminal that’s been contaminated from decades past.
Blair McDonald is among the hired consultants who prepared the toxicology and risk assessment report. He says tests confirm lead contamination around the ore loader that shut down in 1991. But he says the contamination isn’t leaching into the environment.
“At first glance you’d say, ‘That doesn’t make sense, there’s a lot of lead, surely it must be having an effect.’ We did additional testing to confirm and validate that decision,” he said.
He says the levels of toxicity in the water are actually declining. And though the scientists have some unanswered questions, he says it’s time to move forward with a remediation plan.
Anchor QEA, an environmental consulting company, proposed dredging in front of the ore loader. Environmental engineer Derek Ormerad says it’s not a perfect process.
“Dredging in and out of the water, it’s a messy operation. It’s impossible with dredging to remove 100 percent of contaminants,” he said.
And it could disturb sediment and re-suspend the fine particles in the water. But he says it is industry standard to hire contractors who will work slowly and use screens to limit sediment disturbance.
The plan presented to the public is designed to remediate 85% of known contaminants.
Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata picked up on this detail. He’s concerned about the total contaminants.
“If there is a number of how much of the contamination this plan addresses—if that number is known, it wasn’t shared with us tonight,” he said.
“Maybe its half, maybe its 25%, maybe it’s more. We don’t know that.”
Consultants point to 30 years worth of sampling data available. Yet there’s no known testing under the ore loader. They say it would be dangerous to try and navigate around the dock and take samples and DEC officials agreed.
Skagway resident Stuart Brown wasn’t satisfied. He says more effort should be made to clean up under the ore loader where the lead pollution is worst.
“Leaving that stuff under the docks to me as a community member is unacceptable,” he said.
“Those big ships will turn that up, and they’ll continue to turn it up.”
White Pass representative Tyler Rose says public comment is welcome while the remediation plan is being designed.
“This plan is still in its early iterative stages. Its in no way finalized. We’re still looking at other options and this information is valuable in that process,” he said.
And it will need approval by state regulators. Kara Kusche is the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s project manager reviewing the private sector effort.
“In the contaminated sites world, DEC approval is needed both on a work plan and on a report,” she said.
“A work plan is a requirement before parties go in the field to do any activities.”
It’s important to note that the White Pass railroad hasn’t owned the terminal for years. It’s more complicated than that.
The municipality of Skagway owns the tidelands, which they lease to the White Pass railroad. Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, a public corporation, now owns the terminal and leases the space on the dock from the railroad.
AIDEA then subleases to the company which owns the Minto Mine. A British company recently purchased the copper-and-gold mine this year and plans to reactivate it later this year.
The mine’s reopening may be before the Skagway Ore Dock is remediated. State officials say the clean up won’t happen until next winter—at the earliest. In the meantime, DEC is taking public comment on its approach to cleaning up the Ore Dock.
To contribute a comment, email Kara Kuscher at firstname.lastname@example.org.