Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced a disaster emergency for Skagway on Thursday after a recent visit by state officials. The mayor of Skagway previously declared a similar disaster emergency after landslides caused the temporary closure of its busiest cruise pier in early summer. Part of the dock has reopened, but estimates say nearly 125,000 cruise passengers had to skip port. As KHNS’ Mike Swasey reports, the governor’s statement could provide assistance that will help Skagway mitigate rockfall risks and expand cruise ship docking options to welcome visitors in 2023.
Borough officials hope Dunleavy’s disaster emergency declaration for Skagway will free up federal funds in addition to state funds to help with the barrage of landslides that continues to affect the railway dock and limit the number of cruise passengers who can visit the port. Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata told KHNS it was the best news he could have hoped for.
“The governor’s office was fantastic through this, they sent a whole team here, we spent a whole day with them getting them out to the rocky side by helicopter. Some of us hiked up there. Then we had a round table with them all afternoon. And they were impressed by the seriousness of the situation. And they went back to the governor’s office and pleaded our case, and he declared an emergency,” Cremata said.
A geotechnical engineering firm is due to complete a 10% rockfall mitigation design plan later this month. But with just six months until Skagway’s next cruising season, it may not be possible to completely eliminate the risk of rockfalls before the ships return in 2023.
Skagway officials have met with owners of the Railroad Dock, White Pass and Yukon Road, to work out a plan to allow four ships a day to visit the city next season. This plan calls for an emergency improvement project on the Skagway ore wharf to be completed by next April. The plan would increase capacity to allow a large Post-Panamax or Quantum sized ship to dock there. These ships can carry up to 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew members.
Some of these larger ships have had to cancel calls to Skagway this year because the only dock large enough for them in town is the Railroad Dock. But with its north pier closed due to landslide activity, all ships docking at the south pier must drop passengers ashore. And as Cremata says, not all of those big ships have the capability.
“The Norwegian post-Panamax class ships, they don’t have a tender. So if we don’t have a way to moor these post-Panamax ships on the ore wharf, we’re not going to get them,” Cremata said.
He also says that if the larger ships can dock at the ore wharf, it will free up space on the railroad wharf for two smaller ships south of the active landslide area. Although they will probably have to send people ashore. The Broadway Dock can be used for a fourth ship.
Borough Manager Brad Ryan said the Ore Wharf expansion project is expected to cost just under $6 million.
“Part of that is taking the ore loader apart. Another piece of it is the demonstration of the existing wooden dock. And then there’s the pile driving, the electrical upgrades…” Ryan said.
He also says that most of this cost is already taken into account in the municipality’s plan to reconfigure the Ore wharf into a multi-purpose wharf in 2024. Engineering company KPFF is expected to provide the next set of design plans for this project by December.
On Oct. 4, Skagway voters will decide whether to approve up to $65 million in revenue bonds to pay for port infrastructure updates after its 55-year lease with White Pass and Yukon expires. Road. If approved, these funds could then be used for any project on the Skagway waterfront. Cremata hopes that some of the emergency disaster funds can be used to pay for the remaining costs of emergency ore wharf upgrades.
“If the tax liability is approved by voters, three and a half million of those dollars can be spent on improvements to the ore wharf for next season before the project is completed in 24 so we can have four berths mooring next summer. Its very important. There is an additional estimated cost of $1.5 million for this project. So hopefully some of that relief money can be used for that,” Cremata said.
For now, borough officials say they have a verbal agreement with White Pass to move forward with the contingency plan to bring up to four ships a day to Skagway in 2023.