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Sunken excavator unstuck

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2004

The state machinery stuck in the muck near Sevena Lake was pulled out New Year's Eve, when a contractor from Anchorage plucked the 22-ton excavator out of the lake and returned it to the state.

According to Steve Thomas, who owns Thomas Development Inc., the excavator was delivered to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' maintenance yard in Soldotna.

"We got it out and delivered to the state," Thomas said Friday from Oregon.

The condition of the machinery is still being determined, however.

"We're assessing the damage now," Central Region Maintenance and Operations Chief Chris Kepler said Monday.

DOT crews at the Soldotna yard were still cleaning the excavator and working on the mechanics Monday.

"They did get the engine running," Kepler said.

The return of the excavator brings to a close a sticky situation for the state that began Dec. 8, when a Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement truck got stuck after breaking through the ice while trying to check the licenses of ice fishers on the lake who, it turns out, had valid licenses. A second truck also got stuck when it tried to free the first vehicle. That's when DOT was called in.

DOT rented a bulldozer from a nearby company, which managed to pull one truck free before it, too, became mired in the soupy mix of ice, water and dirt at the edge of the lake. The 10-ton bulldozer spent the night at the site, waiting to be rescued itself.

The next morning, DOT personnel arrived with the 22-ton excavator rented from a different company which slipped off the mats designed to support it while trying to free the truck and bulldozer. That's when a private contractor was brought in with a second excavator, which managed to pull the truck and bulldozer free, but not the excavator.

At that point, Thomas Development was contracted.

On Wednesday, the company arrived on the scene with a 44-ton excavator brought up from Seward, as well as a truck with a 30-ton capacity boom. After placing logs and steel mats on the ice, the excavator and truck managed to resurrect the original excavator from its icy grave.

J.R. Thomas, who worked on the project, said it wasn't a real big deal for his company, which specializes in that sort of work.

"The guy from the state said, 'I see you've done this before,'" Thomas said. "He said we did a good job."

Thomas noted that the excavator had rather extensive damage from the original attempt to free it.

"It's dinged up quite a bit," he said.

Thomas and his crew returned to the site Monday to remove the logs and metal pads still left frozen in the lake.

He said the cost of removing the excavator came to $29,500.

The total cost to the state for the incident has yet to be determined, however.

In addition to removal, DOT and Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement man hours, and as yet undetermined repair costs to the $160,000 excavator, there's the expense of renting the equipment.

"We're going to work with the rental company on that," Kepler said.

The excavator was rented Dec. 9 on a $600 a day contract, according to the rental company. As of Monday afternoon, the equipment had not been returned.



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