- Associated Press - Saturday, April 11, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Crews were working around the clock Saturday to clear a stretch of the Dalton Highway that’s been impassible for a week because of unprecedented overflow from a nearby river.

The closure of a 15-mile stretch of the road has waylaid truck drivers and raised the cost of transporting commodities to North Slope oilfields, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper (https://bit.ly/1IDoQ0l ) reported.

Some trucks have dropped trailers and turned south for Fairbanks. Others remain queued at rest stops or in lines.

At one point, an estimated 100 trucks waited in limbo on both sides of the closed section, said Alaska Trucking Association Executive Director Aves Thompson.

The state Department of Transportation plans to issue an update Sunday afternoon.

The problem began in mid-March and culminated with unprecedented levels of overflow from the Sagavanirktok River flooding the highway last week and forcing the closure. It’s been impassable since last Sunday.

Gov. Bill Walker declared a disaster this week, allowing two contractors to battle the overflow alongside state employees.

Crews are trying to reinforce snow berms used to divert water, with marginal success, according to Meadow Bailey, the Department of Transportation’s Northern Region spokeswoman.

Some sections of the roadway are buried beneath 3 to 4 feet of ice, or up to 30 inches of water, Bailey said.

Channels of running water under the ice are challenging to pinpoint, making water diversion difficult and operations dangerous, Bailey said. The department is using satellite imagery to better determine where water channels flow.

Flowing water has also been forced on top of the ice, despite below-freezing temperatures. The department is concerned break-up could compound problems.

Snowfall, temperatures and winds are all believed to have contributed to the flooding, which the department says is “unprecedented.”

Thompson said truckers south of the flood face the dilemma of losing their place in line by returning to Fairbanks, possibly just in time to drive north again when the road opens. Drivers north of the closure have fewer options.

Eric Helzer, the CEO of Colville, a company that transports fuel to the North Slope, said the cost of delivering goods has skyrocketed. He said small helicopters are no longer available, which has forced the use of larger ones that can cost 20 times more.

His company has been resupplying 24 to 30 sidelined trucks with motor fuel, food and basic essentials. Colville has been exploring relief options, including conducting crew changes.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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