WASHINGTON - Weeks after Mount Redoubt erupted in Alaska, the Interior Department is spending some of its first stimulus dollars to improve volcano monitoring.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Friday said the department will use $15.2 million to modernize volcano warning systems in one of its first projects to be funded by the stimulus measure. It was part of $140 million in spending announced Friday.
Salazar said the monitoring will do a better job of warning the public and airlines of eruptions, as it did months before Mount Redoubt blew in March. The Alaska Volcano Observatory first started issuing warnings in late January, Salazar said.
"We know that we must warn the public of explosive eruptions. We need to alert aircraft of ash clouds and warn communities of ash falls and lava and mud flows," Salazar said in a conference call with reporters.
Salazar said the Alaska observatory's top priority is to avoid a repeat of what happened during Redoubt's eruption 19 years ago when a Boeing 747 strayed into an ash cloud and nearly crashed.
Republicans targeted the volcano monitoring as an example of wasteful spending in the stimulus plan. In a February speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the rapid growth in federal spending should be monitored.