SKAGWAY, Alaska — Favorable tides have helped a contractor for the state transportation department refloat a dock used by the state ferry system in Skagway after it sank last week.
But ferry service remains suspended to the Southeast Alaska community until inspections have been completed.
The dock was partially exposed at low tide. The contractor, Western Marine, used large pumps on two barges to pump water from the dock, which refloated itself when high tide came in Tuesday, DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said.
People on their way to work saw the partially submerged floating dock about 6 a.m. Thursday, and the dock was completely under water within 90 minutes.
The dock is 160 feet by 120 feet and is comprised of 24 individual, airtight concrete chambers, each 12 feet deep. The chambers are supposed to provide a redundancy backup, meaning if one fails, the other airtight boxes keep the dock afloat. The sinking indicates there were multiple failures or other issues.
Officials still don’t know what caused the dock to sink, but one unconfirmed theory involves a leak in a potable water pipeline that services boats that tie to the dock, Woodrow said.
The pipe went through nine of the concrete chambers. Woodrow said the city of Skagway has confirmed that about 800,000 gallons of water went missing from the city water system the night the dock sank.
“We aren’t confirming that as the reason it sank yet,” he said.
The contractor, along with state engineers, will take about two days to fully inspect the dock, looking for damage and the cause of the sinking and determining what needs to be repaired to get it back into operation.
“Our first priority is making sure we can restore ferry service to Skagway,” he said.
The state has ferry service scheduled to Skagway about three times a week during the winter and almost daily during the summer.
Currently, ferry service has been suspended to the city until May 9.
The state will continue to evaluate that timetable based upon a repair plan for the dock. Woodrow said travelers can find updates about service at www.ferryalaska.com.
The community about 15 miles from the Canadian border is not cut off, however.
It’s connected to the Yukon by the Klondike Highway, and is a couple hours away from Whitehorse, in Yukon Territory. It’s also about a six-hour drive to Haines, Alaska, a distance that takes about 45 minutes on a ferry.