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Yukon, Alaska officials in talks on future of Skagway ore dock

Yukon officials want to make sure the territory's mining industry maintains access to tidewater.

Minto ore shipments could pose conflict with remediation plans

The Skagway ore terminal, seen in the lower right portion of this image, is a key port for Yukon's mining industry. (James Brooks/Capital City Weekly/The Associated Press)

Officials from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are trying to plot a course for the future of the Skagway ore terminal.

Representatives from the Yukon government and Alaska met in Skagway last week for the latest round of ongoing talks.

At issue is a complicated tangle of issues further complicated by the pending restart of production at Yukon's Minto copper mine, which requires access to tidewater via Skagway. Ore shipments could begin as early as the first quarter of 2020.

"We feel comfortable from what we're hearing that we're going to have access to that deep water," said Ranj Pillai, Yukon's economic development minister. "And we're going to continue to, in a very respectful way, explain how important that is for the Yukon."

But the seabed beneath the ore terminal is contaminated with lead-zinc from decades of ore shipments from Yukon's Faro mine.

The terminal is leased by the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, which hauled ore from Whitehorse to Skagway by rail until Faro closed permanently in 1982. But the White Pass lease ends in 2023, when ownership of the facility will revert to the municipality.

Ready ore not

The dock is currently owned by state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. Tender documents issued earlier this summer state that the agency is looking to develop a maintenance plan for the dock, but has no plans "to upgrade or to implement large capital improvements, only to continue to utilize the existing asset."

Skagway mayor Andrew Cremata said cleaning up the contamination is a priority for his town.

"What I would like to see and what the community of Skagway has said is they want to see is some kind of system developed where our environment is protected," Cremata said, "[where] there is monitors and controls on how potentially dangerous cargo is being moved through the port. And also some kind of compensation."

Pillai said it's too early to talk about the Yukon putting money into the facility, but he said the territorial government is willing to offer technical advice.

Cremata said there are also concerns about enough space for cruise ships at the docks. He said there have been space conflicts in the past, but those are being managed.

But Cremata also said it's important to maintain industrial access to the port for both Yukon and Alaska customers. Both Pillai and Cremata characterized the conversations as cordial. 

"Hopefully post 2023 we'll have an arrangement that benefits Yukon and benefits Skagway," Cremata said.

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