Yukon’s $45M commitment to Skagway ore dock ‘shrouded in mystery,’ says opposition

The ore dock in Skagway, Alaska, in 2022. The Yukon government is investing in upgrades to the dock, saying it’s crucial for exporting product from the Yukon’s mines. (Michel Proulx/CBC)

The Yukon’s opposition parties are questioning why the government quietly shuffled nearly $45 million for a new ore dock in Skagway, Alaska, to future fiscal years, with the first payment set for 2025-26.

The premier, however, says the answer is simple — the Alaska borough didn’t sign a contract for the work.

The territory’s plan to pay to help upgrade shorefront infrastructure in Skagway was a topic of heavy debate during the legislative assembly’s 2023 fall sitting, with the government justifying the investment by saying dock access was crucial for exporting product from the Yukon’s mines.

While the project initially seemed imminent, it didn’t appear in the 2024-25 territorial budget and wasn’t highlighted in the government’s five-year capital plan, with the money folded into a larger “real property and asset management” category for the 2025-26 to 2027-28 fiscal years.

Opposition Yukon Party house leader Scott Kent pushed the government on why, during question period Thursday. He described the project as “shrouded in mystery.”

“I mean, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a project that’s $45 million… hidden in a line item,” Kent told reporters afterwards, noting that some projects worth just “hundreds of thousands of dollars” were explicitly named in the plan.

“This project went from, I would say, the flagship of their fall supplementary budget to now being removed from that budget and put in, you know, some mysterious line on page eight of the five-year capital plan,” Kent added.

“How many other multi-million-dollar projects are located in those line items?”

‘At the end of the day, it’s the Borough of Skagway’s harbour’

Premier Ranj Pillai, however, who championed the money for the project last year, told reporters that the Yukon Party’s line of questioning was “ridiculous.”

While a contractor is currently remediating the old Skagway ore dock site, Pillai said the borough decided it was “not comfortable signing off on the second part of the work” — rebuilding the dock — just yet.

“At the end of the day, it’s the Borough of Skagway’s harbour, they have control,” he said.

“What we knew last fiscal was, we needed to ensure that we had the funds available to move forward with that work, which we did. The decision was made by the borough not to sign off after that competitive process and to go back and to do more due diligence.”

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai speaks to media in Whitehorse on Thursday. ‘At the end of the day, it’s the Borough of Skagway’s harbour, they have control,’ he said. (Jackie Hong/CBC )

Pillai noted that there was “different leadership” in Skagway after a municipal election last October that was taking “a little bit of a different approach compared to previous leadership.” He also said he still believed the project, and the Yukon’s investment into it, was “extremely important.”

“It’s going to be critical to ensuring that we have the ability to have a future mining industry that can play a role in providing critical minerals to the world… What we are doing is making sure that the relationship with the community of Skagway and the borough leaders is respectful,” Pillai said.

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said she understood and respected that if and when the ore dock project went ahead was up to Skagway, but said there was still a lack of transparency on the part of the Yukon government.

“I think the real concern for me is that in the fall, just like four or five short months ago, we were told that this was critical infrastructure funding, it had to be approved, it had to go out, if it didn’t, you know, all hope was lost,” White said.

“Some of the things that the premier didn’t mention in debate last fall was that there [would be] a municipal election.”

White also said Yukoners still did not have clear answers about what she said should be key considerations for the project given the amount of money the territory has allotted for it.

“I’ll say this again, I do not disagree that Yukon needs access to tidewater, but … What part does the Yukon government have going forward?” she asked.

“How do Yukoners get repaid for this investment?”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Deal over access to ore dock in Skagway, Alaska, ‘critical’ to Yukon: premier, CBC News

Norway: Norway’s oil minister: “We need new discoveries”, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: More Russian Arctic oil via Murmansk redirects to India, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Will the green transition be the new economic motor in the Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Sen. Sullivan stresses economic promise of Willow drilling project in annual address to Legislature, Alaska Public Media

Jackie Hong, CBC News

Jackie Hong is a reporter for CBC North in Whitehorse. She was previously the courts and crime reporter at the Yukon News and, before moving North in 2017, was a reporter at the Toronto Star where she covered everything from murder trials to escaped capybaras.

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