State-owned corporation considers shuttering Skagway ore terminal, building a new one in Haines

The Skagway ore dock. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)
The Skagway ore dock. (Emily Files/KHNS)

The state’s development corporation is thinking about decommissioning its ore terminal in Skagway and opening a similar facility in Haines instead. Local officials in Haines see it as an opportunity to upgrade old shipping infrastructure. It’s an expensive proposition, and one that not all Haines residents are excited about.

Skagway’s deep water port has been used to ship ore from the Yukon for over a century. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority bought Skagway’s ore terminal facility from White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in 1991.

It has a contract with a British mining company to ship gold, copper and silver ore out of Canada. Last year, the amount of material they shipped was historically low.

AIDEA is now considering walking away from the ore terminal in Skagway. At a recent board meeting, the corporation decided to commission a cost-benefit analysis to see if it makes sense to invest and upgrade the facility or decommission it.

At the same time, the public corporation has been meeting with Haines Borough officials to discuss the possibility of developing an ore terminal at the town’s only freight dock along Lutak Inlet.

AIDEA’s Jesse Peterson explained the basic idea to the borough’s Ports and Harbors Advisory Committee on Thursday, April 22.

“There’s an opportunity to expand and modernize the existing Lutak Dock in combination with a potential bulk export ore loading facility that would improve the dock’s overall commercial function. This opportunity would create a facility that could accommodate the transportation of other resources, and really support the mining industry,” Peterson said.

Constantine Metal Resources has been exploring a mineral deposit north of Haines with hopes of one day developing a mine. At the meeting, Constantine CEO Garfield McVeigh said that while they had initially envisioned shipping ore from Skagway, an ore terminal in Haines would make more sense for the company.

“Haines would be a very obvious, even a more obvious place to ultimately ship concentrate from,” McVeigh said.

Developing the terminal in Haines would require a significant investment. In 2014, engineers determined that the dock had reached the end of its life and was at risk of failing.

The borough needs millions of dollars to repair the dock and has so far been unsuccessful in securing any federal funding for it. Some see investment from AIDEA as a way to save a critical piece of infrastructure for the town. But not everyone is so excited.

“I’m not going to stand for an ore terminal in our community,” said Shannon Donahue, a Haines resident and staff member of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

At the meeting, she referenced how decades of ore shipping out of Skagway has contaminated the basin of the port. The city has been working with stakeholders, including AIDEA, to develop a remediation plan for years, but the cleanup has yet to begin.

“I appreciate that our community needs repairs to our freight dock. I would encourage the committee to continue with the existing footprint. There are other ways AIDEA could help our community through small business assistance, through helping out with our rebuilding. But an ore dock is really a terrible idea here,” Donahue said.

Some residents have accused the Haines Borough of lacking transparency in its discussions with AIDEA. The borough had initially scheduled an evening town hall meeting to learn more about AIDEA’s proposal, but it was canceled abruptly. The Haines Chamber of Commerce then organized a series of speakers to discuss the proposal during the ports and harbor committee meeting.

It’s unclear what the next steps are for the proposal. AIDEA officials said community support would be important before proceeding with any project development.

KHNS - Haines

KHNS is our partner station in Haines. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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