Halford says avalanche funds not high priority

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A proposal to fund an avalanche safety program supported by Gov. Tony Knowles isn't likely to make it through the Legislature, according to Senate President Rick Halford.

Eight people have died in avalanches in Alaska this winter. Four were in areas of Southcentral Alaska that would be monitored by a proposed avalanche warning program.

The $750,000 program would monitor the snow pack in the Anchorage area, Hatcher Pass, the northern part of the Kenai Peninsula, Thompson Pass near Valdez, and the Juneau area. Under the program, avalanche forecasters would also issue slide warnings and teach avalanche awareness.

An avalanche warning program is required by law but since 1986 has not been fully funded by the Legislature. The proposed $2.4 billion budget that passed in the House last month contains no money and it's unlikely funds will be added in the Senate.

"Once you accept responsibility and decide you're going to be out there warning people, you could spend a pretty substantial increase," said Halford, a Chugiak Republican.

An avalanche warning program focused on Southcentral Alaska has some merit, Halford said. Not all programs can be funded, however, with the state facing an $800 million budget shortfall this year and bigger budget gaps projected in the future.

"How does (an avalanche warning program) compare with 15 or 20 new (village public safety officers) for communities that can't keep their schools open because they can't maintain order?" Halford said, referring to unrest in the village of Kivalina last month that led to a school shutdown.



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