Skagway loses cruise ship visits as landslides limit dock use

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 on Aug. 4, 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, executive director of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, which owns the dock. Two additional landslides in early August at the north chute damaged shipping 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 by small boats to town, 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. The community has two other docks.

“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. An additional 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 Aug. 4.

Skagway was hit especially hard by the downturn in tourism 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 2½ inches over the past year, an acceleration from the prior rate of 1½ inches a year, according to the borough declaration.

The railroad is working with teams of engineers and the municipality to reduce the risk of landslides. It’s unclear how much that will cost, but Rose described it as substantial.

The borough 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.

 

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