Skagway ferry dock still salvageable, service suspended

Photo/Katherine Emmets/AP

Ferry service has been suspended to Skagway through May 9 after the town’s ferry terminal dock sank without warning; however, it appears the dock is salvageable.

Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn said early April 30 that he was told the floating dock would be operational in about a week.

Workers from a local marine contractor were able to refloat the dock April 29, according to an Alaska Marine Highway System update on the project. The dock will immediately receive an intense inspection to determine what parts need to be replaced and why it sank in the first place.

AMHS contracted with Western Marine Construction Inc., which has facilities in Seattle and Juneau, on an emergency basis over the weekend of April 26-27 to float, inspect and hopefully repair the dock as quickly as possible, system spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said.

Estimating the fixes would be complete might be “a bit optimistic,” Woodrow said, but he confirmed the dock does not need to be replaced.

“Once the inspection is complete the (Transportation) Department will have a better handle on the necessary repairs and how long it will take to get the dock back in operation,” Woodrow said.

The submerged hydraulic and electrical parts will undoubtedly need to be swapped out, he said. A temporary fix to the hydraulics that move the vehicle ramp will likely be sought to make the dock operational while a permanent solution is found, he said.

The 160-foot by 120-foot dock is comprised of 24 individual, airtight concrete chambers, each 12 feet deep.

The 24 chambers are supposed to provide a redundancy backup, he said, meaning if one fails, the other airtight boxes keep the dock afloat.

“To have the dock submerged like this, there has to be multiple failures or some other issue,” he said.

People on their way to work saw the partially submerged floating dock about 6 a.m., April 24, and the dock was completely under water within 90 minutes.

Every individual chamber has been inspected by the state in the last two years, Woodrow told the Associated Press.

There was “no visible sign of wear or indication that would lead to this submersion,” he said.

The state has ferry service scheduled to Skagway about three times a week during the winter and six days a week during the summer.

Hahn said the interruption in ferry service caused a “hassle” for some business owners preparing to greet the season’s first cruise ship scheduled to arrive in Skagway May 1, but that it appears major logistical problems have been avoided if the dock is back in operation soon.

Businesses in many coastal Alaska communities use the ferry service to transport merchandise and supplies, along with employees.

“It would’ve caused quite a stir for us” if the dock needed replacing, he said. “It would’ve been a big cost to the city.”

Hahn said he heard of a few tourists who planned on using the ferry to visit the area before the cruise ships arrived and were subsequently inconvenienced, but understood the situation and found other ways to get to Skagway.

If it turns out the dock has to be out of commission for an extended period he said city leaders would sit down with business owners and the Skagway Chamber of Commerce to quantify the impact of no ferry service to the community, as well as try to facilitate another vessel operator to transport goods and vehicles.

The community about 15 miles from the Canadian border is not cut off, however.

It’s connected to the Yukon by the Klondike Highway, and is a couple hours away from Whitehorse, in Yukon Territory. It’s also about a six-hour drive to Haines, Alaska, a distance that takes about 45 minutes on a ferry.

Jan Wrentmore, owner of the Red Onion Saloon, said she was dismayed when she saw the dock underwater.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” she said. “It’s something that you rely on and take for granted, and suddenly it’s gone.”

Several local entities combined to help drag to shore parts of the dock that were still accessible above the water line. Also removed from the water was a forklift that had been on the dock.

It’s not the first time a dock in Skagway fell into the ocean.

In 1994, the city’s railroad dock sank. The cause was never determined.

AMHS is asking parties interested in updated Skagway sailing information to call 907-465-3941 or 800-642-0066.

Updates on the Skagway ferry terminal dock can also be found at www.ferryalaska.com.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

The Associated Press also contributed to this story.

Updated: 
11/21/2016 - 11:46am