Funding cuts may end avalanche forecasting

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007

The Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center announced it won't be able to produce avalanche forecasts this winter, unless it receives last-minute funding.

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Last winter, the center's forecast Web site received about 8,000 Web site hits per month, according to the center.

This year, center officials have not been able to obtain enough money for more than nine weeks of operation, according to an avalanche center press release.

Bill Glude, center director and lead forecaster, said the center cannot meet the legal standard of care for avalanche forecasting for such a short part of the season.

"The risk of major cycles occurring outside the program period would be too high, and effective snowpack study must begin as the basal layers form so they can be monitored continuously," Glude said. "There is no way to accurately target or staff for a short period within Juneau's six-month avalanche season."

The center is continuing to work with the city to help it find forecast funding for the 2008-09 season and will continue its other programs of avalanche education, training, and research.

The city approved $60,000, including $10,000 from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, or 38 percent of the $156,096 minimum the avalanche center needs to begin hiring and setting up the program.

"Half the forecasting budget goes to overhead, as is typical for businesses and nonprofits," Glude said. "Half of $156,096 leaves $78,048 to pay the staff.

Two field workers are necessary because people cannot work in dangerous avalanche conditions alone, he said. A third field worker rotates in to provide 24-7 coverage. A fourth staffer manages the office.

The funding provides $19,512 for each worker.

"We can't hire highly skilled professionals in Juneau for any less, nor can they afford to live here on less," Glude said. "And we can't meet the standard of care with less."



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