Alaska News

Landslides close dock, cause cruise stop cancellations in Skagway

Skagway, White Pass railroad, cruise ship

Several landslides have closed the cruise ship dock in Skagway for the rest of the summer, causing what’s expected to be at least three dozen vessels to skip the tourism-dependent port by the end of summer.

The municipality issued an emergency declaration last week, citing the need to shore up the slide-damaged areas and the loss of more than 100,000 cruise passengers to cancellations and rescheduling.

A mid-July report from a geotechnical and environmental consulting firm showed “significant risk” of “catastrophic failure” of the mountainside above the dock that poses “significant risks to life and property.”

A landslide in June damaged the deck and east side of the dock at the south end of the north berth, according to Tyler Rose, the executive director of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, which owns the dock. Two additional landslides last week at the north chute damaged Conex containers and part of a security building, he said.

No one was injured in the slides that sent rock, dirt and vegetation down the mountainside above the dock.

The entire dock is closed to passengers and vehicles, Rose said. The south berth is accepting ships and tendering guests, but the north berth is closed, he said.

The closure means the port has only been able to accommodate three large cruise ships at the same time, said Jaime Bricker, Skagway’s municipal tourism director.

“Anytime we had something listed for four large cruise ships to port, the fourth has been rerouted,” Bricker said.

Twelve cruise ships skipped Skagway after the June landslide, according to Bricker. Another 24 sailings have been removed from the upcoming schedule, she said. Rose said there has been a large reduction in traffic, but the full effect won’t be known until the end of the season.

“It’s obviously impactful anytime we have a decrease in passengers,” Bricker said. “I think each business is going to feel an effect from that.”

Skagway’s economy is largely driven by tourism, and the cruise cancellations are “already negatively impacting the general economy of our community,” Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata wrote in an emergency declaration issued Thursday.

Skagway was hit especially hard by the downturn in tourism during the last few years driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the diversion of cruise ships is again causing hardships for the town, Cremata wrote.

The area also saw two significant landslides in 2017 and has seen continued movement at the rockslide face away from the mountain a rate of 2 1/2 inches over the last year, an acceleration from the prior rate of 1 1/2 inches a year, according to the declaration.

The railroad is working with teams of engineers and the municipality to mitigate the landslides. It’s unclear how much that will cost, but Rose described it as substantial. In the emergency declaration, Cremata wrote that the work is expected to cost “tens of millions of dollars.”

The city is seeking assistance from federal and state agencies.

The goal is to reopen the dock for the 2023 cruise ship season, which begins in May.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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