Juneau authorizes money for avalanche forecasting program

'I look at it as insurance,' city manager says

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008

Juneau City Manager Rod Swope received a go-ahead Wednesday from the Juneau Assembly to hire an avalanche forecaster for the coming winter.

Noting that he's not one to request additional staff, Swope told the Assembly the situation involving avalanche danger for some residents north of downtown is different.

"I look at it as insurance," Swope said. "We could potentially pay out every year and hopefully nothing will happen. But if it does, we would be in a tough situation had we done nothing."

The Assembly authorized $55,000 from the general fund to help pay for a forecaster and necessary support such as helicopter time to do snow tests on Mount Juneau, which poses the biggest slide threat to residents who live in avalanche slide zones.

The biggest benefit of the program would come in the event of a large avalanche near downtown, Assembly member Merrill Sanford said. In that case, the city would need a professional on hand to determine if the slide zone was safe for emergency response.

This winter's program will be similar to one in 2007 that allowed residents to check daily online danger levels.

City funding will cover half of the cost. The other half will be paid for by grants, Swope said, adding that one of the new-hire's duties would be to hustle grant money to pay for the program in future years.

Sanford and fellow Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said they would support the program only if a majority of the funding came from grants or other sources besides the city.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or e-mail kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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