By Alex DeMarban
21 May 2015
DEADHORSE (Alaska Dispatch News) – Unprecedented flooding continues to interfere with daily operations on the North Slope oil patch after surging waters wiped away swaths of the Dalton Highway and isolated a section of Deadhorse, the jumping-off point for the sprawling industrial region.
“This is just epic,” said Mike Coffey, commander of the unified incident command, a response team consisting of the state, the North Slope Borough and oil companies. “People who have been here for decades say they’ve never seen anything like it.”
The state has estimated the costs of the damage and repairs since March at $5.1 million. The federal government may pay for much of that, since the icing and flooding on the highway has been declared a disaster, said Coffey, the director of state transportation maintenance and operations.
The event was caused by heavy summer rains followed by extensive freezing this winter, trapping the water in place, then a rapid spring warmup that has brought record temperatures to the region.
“It’s kind of a perfect storm for things to go south,” said Coffey.
Viewed from the air for some 20 miles south of Deadhorse, the highway and elevated trans-Alaska pipeline appear like spines above a sea of water, with the Sagavanirktok River tumbling in white currents across sections of the highway. One section of severed road appears to stretch a half-mile long.
It’s impossible to know the real cost of the damage since many sections of the gravel road are still swamped with water. It’s also impossible to know how long until the highway is opened, said Coffey.
“The best guesstimate is the high water is expected to last another four days,” he said. Officials hope repairs can begin immediately after that.
The trans-Alaska pipeline -- and the oil flowing through it that produces the bulk of state revenues -- isn’t threatened, said Michelle Egan of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. [more]