Clear weather reveals  the full extent of the submerged Skagway ferry terminal dock. (Photo by Doug Smith/KHNS)

Clear weather reveals the full extent of the submerged Skagway ferry terminal dock. (Photo by Doug Smith/KHNS)

Skagway remains cut off from ferry service as the state figures out why the ferry terminal dock sank last Thursday.

The state transportation department has contracted with Western Marine Construction to begin salvaging and repairing the dock. The company moved two barges to the town over the weekend and will try refloating the dock on Tuesday or Wednesday. However, repairs will still be needed before Alaska Marine Highway ships can tie up again, according to  DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.

“We’ll know a lot more once we get the dock floated again and will be able to access the damage,” Woodrow says. “Then we’ll be able to devise a plan from there.”

Why the dock sank is a mystery, though Skagway Mayor Mark Schaefer says some of the individual concrete chambers that float the structure may have flooded.

Skagway’s potable water system’s 3-inch pipe runs from the terminal to the dock and part-way underneath, making it easy for state ferries to resupply with water.

Schaefer says Skagway uses an average of 300,000 gallons of water every 24 hours from the municipal supply, but between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning the city registered 800,000 gallons of water used.  That leads city officials to think the potable water pipe under the dock may have burst, filling the floats and causing it to sink.

Essentially we think we flooded the float and sank it that way. But we’re not sure yet. We know we used a whole bunch of water and it’s not bubbling up in the street somewhere. It’s a significant amount of water,” Schaefer says.

The dock is a 120-foot by 160-foot platform that sits on 24 hollow concrete chambers. Mayor Schaefer compares the floating mechanism to a concrete ice cube tray. The potable water line runs through several of those compartments, hence the theory about the burst pipe flooding the floats, he says.

Woodrow says the state is aware of the theory, but is investigating all possibilities at this point.

Due to the urgency of the situation, the state was able to bypass the bidding process and established a sole source contract with Western Marine, Woodrow says.

The state has suspended ferry service to the town until at least May 9.  A Haines-based ferry company, the Fjordland, has tentatively scheduled service between Haines and Skagway on days the state ferry sails the Lynn Canal.

Alaska Seaplanes and Air Excursions have added flights to Skagway while ferry service is suspended.

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