Walker declares a Dalton disaster

Photo/Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Flooding and ice over the Dalton Highway forced Gov. Bill Walker to declare a state disaster late Tuesday at the request of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Ice overflow from the Sag River has forced officials to close the road twice in the past week, with the latest closure currently in effect since Sunday, said DOT spokeswoman Meadow Bailey.

Crews from the state Transportation Department have been fighting the overflow on the northern end of the highway since March 13, according to a release from Walker’s office. The flooding and subsequent freezing has formed ice up to 30 inches thick in some areas between mileposts 390 and 405 of the Dalton.

“This declaration will enable the (DOT) to call upon the additional resources that are necessary. The gravity of the situation requires the state move quickly and restore this essential economic corridor,” Walker said in a formal statement.

With a disaster declared the state’s public assistance funds reserved for such instances become available.

A pair of severe storms reduced visibility and pushed crews off the road, which forced the closures, according to Bailey.

“There are truckers that have been in Prudhoe Bay since Sunday,” she said midday Wednesday.

Bailey said crews are now back out on the road working to clear the ice and channel water away from the road, but it’s unclear when the Dalton will reopen.

Major field operators BP and ConocoPhillips are taking the situation in stride.

"Seasonal transportation interruptions are normal this time of year, so we plan for it. This includes a stockpile of regular supplies and making alternative arrangements for transportation of goods, such as cargo flights," BP spokeswoman Dawn Patience said.

Natalie Lowman, spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips, said there have been no problems for her company.

It's a different story for some smaller companies, though.

Bart Armfield, chief operating officer of Brooks Range Petroleum, said, "We have tubulars and construction equipment stuck on the wrong side (of the closure) but we've been able to beg and borrow what we need, for now. We find that when things are tight people find ways to work together. Fuel is a problem, though.

"This is unprecedented. In my 20 years of experience on the Slope I've never seen an extended closure at this time of year."

Caelus Energy spokesman Casey Sullivan said the situation has been tight for his company, which operates the small Oooguruk field.

Repsol spokeswoman Trish Baker said her company, which has three rigs on exploration drilling in the Colville River delta, is concerned about the situation but that there are no disruptions.

Updates on the Dalton Highway closing is available by calling 511 or visiting the department’s road conditions website, 511.alaska.gov. Specific inquiries can be made by calling DOT at (907) 451-2206.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

11/20/2016 - 7:45am