One Big Rock Pile

A pool has backed up behind the slide off the bank under the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad tracks at Seven Mile. This picture was taken from the Porcupine Trail behind the city incinerator. Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

Material from blow-out,

repair ends up in river
State agencies say there’s no need for concern

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS and JEFF BRADY

A washout and the repair at Seven Mile on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad tracks caused a large amount of rock and dirt to slide into the Skagway River.
A pool has formed behind the slide of approximately 300 feet in length, said Stan Selmer, vice president of the Alaska Power & Telephone Co.
Selmer routinely monitors the river because of the company’s Goat Lake hydroelectric plant about one-and-a-half miles upriver from the slide. He said he usually monitors it from the Skagway Bridge daily and three times a week at the Seven-Mile cut to see if it’s icing up. Selmer didn’t know what effect the incident would have on ice formation this winter.
“Over the last 100 years of that river going through there, there have been several pools because of gorge action,” Selmer said in an interview in his office. “Yes there was a pool there, now it’s a much bigger pool. I’m not sure if where the rock went into the river that it didn’t fill up a pool.”
White Pass’s initial response to questions about the alleged damming of the river came from company vice president Gary Danielson on Oct. 17.
Speaking by phone from his new winter home in Whitehorse, Danielson explained that a washout occurred at the Seven Mile site on Sept. 14, and that the company had to rebuild the shoulder of the mountain. Trains were allowed to run until the end of the season on Sept. 26, and work on the section continued for nearly a month.
Danielson said work trains moved rock from an old slide area about 300 yards up the tracks to fill in the newly washed-out area and restabilize the bank. This involved dumping some rock over the side. He said rock did make it all the way down to the river, but added that a lot of rock was down there from the original washout and other work in the area like the highway construction and incinerator projects on the other side of the river.
Danielson maintained there was no blockage of the river, and that company president Fred McCorriston, general manager of rail operations John Mielke, and shops foreman Mark Schaefer had hiked down to the river on Oct. 16 to check it out. He said the Department of Natural Resources, which owns the land and river below the tracks, also had been contacted early that week.
Since he had not actually seen the backed-up portion of the river, he referred specific questions about the size of the “lake” to the other company officials.
McCorriston and Mielke stopped by the Skagway News office Oct. 18 to further explain what had occurred.
McCorriston estimated that the rock in the river was made up of one-third old material and two-thirds new material. He said the so-called “lake” had been there before, describing it as more of a “pool of quiet water” before it chutes down through the narrowest passage on the whole river. He said there are old rocks visible in that pool.

Another view of the slide showing the Skagway River slipping by it.

The company president said they have been in contact with the city and DNR about the situation. DNR was going to send up a topographical map for company officials to mark, and the agency also had asked the company to monitor the water flow. DNR also would contact other appropriate state agencies, he said.
When asked why White Pass didn’t contact DNR sooner about the slide and the work above the river, McCorriston said the slide occurred three days after the terrorist attacks, at a time when the railroad was just trying to stay operating until the end of the season.
“We were dealing with an emergency track repair and all the 9/11 stuff,” he said. “We were trying to keep our people working.”
McCorriston said he had gone out to the washout site to make sure the area was stable to continue to allow trains to pass. He said the washout was caused by water seeping into an old rock “Chinese wall” that held up the steep bank under the tracks. It has been replaced with about 8-10 feet of new shoulder, and culverts will be installed to drain off water to prevent any future problems.
The repair work was supervised by roadmaster Ed Hanousek, who left Skagway last week to serve a six-month sentence on a misdemeanor of negligent dumping of oil from an incident at Six Mile in October 1994.
Both the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Game seem not to be worried.
“The slide is on National Forest Land, the river is the boundary line between state and federal lands, the west side is state and the east is federal,” said Ron Schonenbach, Southeast regional manager for DNR. “I don’t know what our role would be or if there’s any need for us to remove it.”
The Skagway News e-mailed pictures to DNR, which they forwarded on to other agencies.
“From looking at pictures it probably is in fish habitat, but my guess is it hasn’t had a big impact on fish habitat in the river,” said Ben Kirkpatrick, regional habitat biologist for Fish and Game.
Kirkpatrick will not be coming to town until mid-November to check on some other things like the airport project, he said.
“The problem is this is in the narrowest part of the river. A big, high water could wash it out, but that’s unlikely,” said Selmer. “But we shouldn’t have to worry about it in the first place.”
Selmer said rainfall this year is significantly lower than last by four-and-a-half inches.
On Tuesday, McCorriston, Mayor Tim Bourcy and City Manager Bob Ward took a helicopter ride to see the site. McCorriston said he thought the flow had gotten better since the first time he saw it. Both Bourcy and Ward said it didn’t look as bad as it did in the pictures they’d seen that Selmer had taken.
McCorriston promised Bourcy and Ward the company would monitor the site throughout the winter. He estimates there are at least another 200 “Chinese walls” that have to be replaced.

White Pass tells Yukon it supports MOU

WHITEHORSE – Top officials of the White Pass and Yukon Route have voiced their support for the memorandum of understanding on developing commerce which was signed recently by the City of Skagway and the Yukon Territorial Government, according to a press release from YTG.
WP&YR’s President Fred McCorriston and Vice President Gary Danielson met with the Economic Development Minister Scott Kent earlier this month to discuss development opportunities and the company’s role in implementing the Skagway MOU.
“The Yukon government recognizes the historical role that White Pass and Yukon Route has played in providing transportation and port facilities,” said Kent. “This is a role that we are working to ensure will continue.”
“As a private sector stakeholder, White Pass and Yukon Route is committed to working with the Yukon government and the City of Skagway on implementing their MOU and in creating a port plan, and identifying tourism development and employment opportunities,” said McCorriston.
“The Yukon government has an interest in ensuring that White Pass would support access to its docks for materials for the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline,” said Kent. “As well we would like to see White Pass expand its service to Carcross and Whitehorse.”
“White Pass and Yukon Route is an enthusiastic supporter of the Alaska Highway Pipeline Project and both White Pass and Yukon Route and the Port of Skagway are open for business,” said Danielson who is also the company’s port director. “I recently moved to Whitehorse because our company has a strong commitment to build Yukon relations and development opportunities.”
The parties agreed to continue discussion on ways to maintain and upgrade options for rail freight, port access and possible expansion of service to Whitehorse.
The Skagway MOU was signed Sept. 28 by Premier Pat Duncan and former Mayor John Mielke. It committed the Yukon government and the City of Skagway to working together to address existing and future infrastructure needs.

ATIA meeting deals with terrorism, future of tourism

A “good 50 people” from Skagway attended the Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s annual meeting in Anchorage several weeks ago to try and deal with the changing world of tourism.
“A record number of Skagwegians were there,” said Buckwheat Donahue, Visitors and Convention Bureau director.
Donahue said there is talk of reviving the “Golden Circle” magazine that touts Whitehorse, Haines and Skagway as a destination to take a more regional marketing approach.
He said Princess Cruises will be sending another ship here from San Francisco, something they’ve been experimenting with for several years – U.S. destinations from a U.S. port.
“Alaska is in a pretty good position despite the tragic events of 9/11,” said Donahue. “As far as cruise ship visits, we’re looking pretty good.”
“On the international scene, we’re trying to see what visitors from the United Kingdom, Europe and Japan are looking for,” said Tina Cyr, marketing director for White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
Cyr said the terrorism workshop brought them all up short when the speaker asked if anyone had checked the ventilation system at the Anchorage convention center.
“We think we’re safe because we’re a little town, and that’s something they (terrorists) would do to instill fear,” she said.
Mayor Tim Bourcy said he was “cautiously optimistic.”
“They’re (cruise ship lines) saying they’ll do whatever they can to fill those ships,” said Bourcy. “Everyone is planning and moving forward for the next season.”
After the ATIA meting on Oct. 13, Princess announced that the Regal Princess had been pulled from its schedule in the Baltics and Europe next summer and instead will sail to Juneau, Victoria, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, and Tracy Arm. This brings the total of Princess ships to six in Southeast next year. –DL

OTHER STORIES:

• Quliting Retreat and Witchy Conference

• New school lunch program

• Editorial: Being thankful

• Sports: Wrestling tourney and volleyball

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