Skagway’s Busiest Cruise Pier at Significant Risk of Catastrophic Landslide | KHNS Radio

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A view of the largest rock mass that geotechnical engineers say will eventually fall: “Such a failure will be catastrophic in nature with significant risk to life and property. (Photo by Mike Swasey)

A new report written by geotechnical engineers shows that Skagway’s busiest cruise ship dock is at significant risk of rockslide affecting the dock, moored ships, cruise ship passengers and workers. At its last meeting, the Borough Assembly asked the wharf owners, White Pass and Yukon Route, to stop using the part of the wharf in the active slip zone. But the next day, the municipal authorities agreed to reorganize passenger foot traffic to try to reduce the risk. KHNS’ Mike Swasey spoke to Skagway Assembly Member Reba Hylton about the report and the new pedestrian traffic agreement.


SwaseyAssembly Member Reba Hylton thanks you for joining us. Let’s jump right into the big news from the landslide area just above Skagway’s busiest cruise pier, the Railroad Dock. The municipality brought in scientists to study the landslide area, they released a report this week. What did this report say?

The view of the rock massif from the north shows the size scale. The movement of these rocks accelerated from 1″ – 1.5″ per year to 2.5″ per year. (photo Mike Swasey)

Hylton – Here’s a quote that caught everyone’s attention. “We are of the opinion that the slope conditions observed during our site visit pose significant risks to people and structures below the slope.” It’s scary, isn’t it? I used to work there. I have friends who work there. I have a family member who works there.

Swasey I work there four or five days a week. And I look up at this giant boulder that’s perched and moving a few inches a year now ready to fall any moment. And I think what’s my best escape? That’s what I think when I’m there. It’s incredibly scary.

Arrangement of rocks north of the northernmost landslide area. (photo Mike Swasey)

Hylton – Absolutely. And when they started monitoring it, you know, it was moving at the rate of an inch and a half a year. And now this newly released report says it’s growing at two and a half inches per year. So, historically, we unfortunately don’t have more data than those dating back a few years. But mean, you hear these facts, and it’s pretty scary.

Swasey Now White Pass is claiming the rocks that could cause damage to the Railroad Dock come from municipal land. They therefore belong to the municipality. How did the congregation respond to that?

Hylton – Phew, man, that was hard. It was a four hour meeting. That was the hot topic, basically everyone is responsible. We all know what’s going on there and not only are we putting ourselves at risk, but we’re putting all of our guests at risk who come into that port and are moored on that side, and that’s unacceptable.

Swasey And so, then the congregation said, well, let’s ask White Pass to stop using the area next to the biggest slide. And then the tender people from the rear position. You had a meeting with elected municipal officials and with White Pass on Friday morning. What kind of deal did you make?

Hylton – What we did was we looked at where there was the most congestion with people congregating in the most dangerous places there. It’s just below the rockslide where failure is going to happen at some point. So we came up with a plan together to rearrange the flow of traffic there. And it’s going to be difficult for people to find their way around. It’s late in the season, but we have to make changes because we know the risk now, it’s on paper, and it’s telling, and we had to do something about it.

This photo shows the active northern landslide area. Hydraulic scaling was done to remove some hazards from the bottom of the mountainside, creating the earth shoot. Some equipment installed by WPYR geologists has been tracking movements since the 2017 landslide. (photo Mike Swasey)

Swasey And what will the changes look like?

Hylton – The security area where people board the ship will be moved further south, the whole area where the cafe is and where the shore excursion kiosks are located, which will be moved; not the caboose itself, I believe the caboose will be closed. M&Ms (dirty towers) will be closed. This circular turnaround will only be available for SMARTbus, but even SMARTbus will load further north, just north of the toilets there. And so SMARTbus will use the rotation area, but we’re going to reduce that rotation area because we’re going to open it up to allow the flow of people not to clog up too much, but just to get them out of that area. And everyone will meet further north of the toilets that are there on the pier. Which will also close the parking lot at the small marina just the one that borders the boardwalk there.

Swasey And when do these new developments come into effect?

Hylton – Immediately.

SwaseyAssemblyman Rebecca Hilton, thank you for keeping us up to date with what’s going on at the Railroad Dock. I appreciate it.

Hylton – You bet.

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