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Alaska News

Dalton Highway 'an ice sheet' as Alaska Gov. Walker declares disaster

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 8, 2015

Gov. Bill Walker declared a state disaster Tuesday afternoon for flooding on the Dalton Highway near Alaska's North Slope that has shut down the sole road to Prudhoe Bay.

For more than three weeks, crews have been battling overflow from the Sagavanirktok River, commonly known as the Sag River, which runs parallel to the Dalton Highway as it approaches the North Slope.

Conditions on the road have continued to deteriorate. The Dalton Highway "is miles of an ice sheet now," said Meadow Bailey, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesperson.

Crews have been trying to divert water off the road using ice culverts and snow dams. The water was running over roughly 15 miles of the road in early April; at its peak, overflow ran 3 feet deep in some places, Bailey said.

The road was closed March 30, reopened for a few days, and then shut down again Sunday night after conditions worsened. It was expected to remain impassable Wednesday night.

Bailey said some truckers have been stuck in Prudhoe Bay since Sunday, bringing "financial challenges to some of these operators," Bailey said.

With the road closed, ConocoPhillips has been flying diesel fuel up to the North Slope, said company spokesperson Natalie Lowman.

In addition, Lowman said, the company is "doing what we can to conserve fuel," but she did not have specific details.

BP spokesperson Dawn Patience wrote that the company's operations were continuing as normal.

"Seasonal transportation interruptions are not unexpected this time of year, so we plan for it. This includes a stockpile of regular supplies, conserving resources and restricting unnecessary travel to the field," Patience wrote in an email.

"We're short on gasoline fuel and it is being strictly provided out to mandatory work groups," wrote Sonny Levitt, an equipment operator for Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Energy Services. "Diesel fuel is also short but slightly less regulated. Many of the normal operations are on strict no driving gasoline vehicles unless it is an emergency."

Levitt also wrote that some seasonal employees were being sent home.

At the request of DOT, Gov. Walker declared a state disaster Tuesday afternoon. The disaster declaration is the first Walker has made since taking office, spokesperson Grace Jang wrote.

The disaster declaration will allow DOT to "bring private contractors up to help," Bailey said.

Meanwhile, loads of cargo meant for the North Slope were backing up in Fairbanks. Aves Thompson, executive director of the Alaska Trucking Association, said Wednesday that road conditions have "slowed freight down to a trickle."

"In Fairbanks now we estimate that there are 700 to 800 loads backed up," Thompson said.

Truckers were waiting in Fairbanks while the road was closed, Thompson said. Once the road nears reopening, "we'll send the loads up as close as we can … so that when the road does open we can get as many through as possible."

While the disaster activates the state's public assistance program, that funding isn't being requested by DOT, according to Jeremy Zidek, spokesperson for the state's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The disaster declaration gives DOT the ability to request federal highway funds, Zidek said. It also allows DOT to waive certain permitting requirements, enabling crews to work quickly to resolve the flooding.

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