Following the purchase of Minto Mine, Yukon ore may be shipped from Skagway once again

The Disney Wonder cruise ship docks near the ship loader at Skagway’s ore terminal. (Photo by Henry Leasia, KHNS - Haines)
The Disney Wonder cruise ship docks near the ship loader at Skagway’s ore terminal. (Photo by Henry Leasia, KHNS – Haines)

The Yukon’s Minto Mine is expected to resume ore production in the near future. That means that Skagway’s ore terminal may begin loading ships with ore after months of inactivity. However, this may complicate the other needs of Skagway’s port. 

From 1967 until 1991, Skagway’s ore terminal loaded ore onto freighters and barges using an open conveyor system. This industrial activity ended up contaminating the harbor.  White Pass and Yukon Railroad Route owned the ore terminal before 1991, so the company is on the hook to clean it up.

Skagway’s Port Commission Chair Tom Cochran says the ore terminal’s ship loader prevents White Pass from accessing contaminated areas of the harbor basin.

“White Pass is submitting remediation plans to DEC for the Ore Basin for cleaning up the contamination and part of that is they can’t do under the loader. That would be another reason to remove it. They could do that during this cleanup process,” Cochran says.

He wrote a letter to the borough assembly earlier this month expressing the need to remove the ship loader at the ore terminal.

“When I wrote that to my knowledge we had no active user. No ore shipping. I thought we had a couple years before any mines would come online,” Cochran says.

The ship loader at the ore terminal hasn’t been used since Capstone Mining closed the Minto Mine, a copper and gold mine in the Yukon. That happened in October. Cochran thought now would be an appropriate time to remove the ore loader.

But British mineral company Pembridge Resources recently announced it had purchased the Minto Mine. The company plans to start producing ore by the end of the year and ship it from Skagway.

According to Skagway Assemblyman Orion Hansen, plans to remove the ship loader may have to be put on hold.

“If the Minto Mine is still actively transporting bulk ore, we’re going to have to wait or negotiate with AIDEA to have access to get underneath that ship loader,” Hansen says. 

Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, is the current owner of Skagway’s ore terminal. The public corporation was unable to respond to questions by broadcast time but wrote in a statement that reopening the Minto Mine is good news.

Right now AIDEA  is looking for an evaluator to assess the condition of the ore terminal and develop a 5-year maintenance plan. The public corporation’s request for proposals says it wants to preserve the terminal as-is.

But Assemblyman Hansen says major improvements to the terminal should be made. He says the terminal’s ship loader is outdated and that loading ore in containers poses less risk of contamination.

In addition, Hansen says the terminal’s ship loader is an obstacle for the cruise industry.

“Having a fixed ship loader is in the way of the cruise ships. The larger class cruise ships, I believe their lifeboats can’t maneuver around the fixed asset of the ship loader, so that’s something that post-2023 or sooner we would like to change.”

But Hansen says it is important to ensure that ore shipments out of Skagway can continue.

“As the municipality of Skagway plans for the future, I think it’s very important that we still have an industrial component that welcomes the exportation of mining and a bulk ore shipment,” Hansen says. “I think it’s very important that we have a diversified economy on our waterfront. It’s not all just tourism.”

Next week, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation will host a public meeting on the clean up of the harbor basin contamination. Representatives will be on hand to share information and explain the science behind the environmental remediation decisions. The meeting will take place on June 26th from 6 to 8 p.m. at the AB Hall.

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