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Crews reopen a portion of flooded Old Richardson highway

Posted: Friday, January 10, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Department of Transportation crews have partially reopened the Old Richardson Highway to four-wheel-drive traffic after a road grader broke up ice caused by floodwaters from the Tanana River.

DOT crews reopened the road Thursday and installed a temporary bridge over Piledriver Slough. Water in the area has receded in recent days, leaving a thick layer of ice that made travel treacherous.

DOT crews needed the water to fall before they could move in and remove the ice and raise the bridge. Spreading floodwater from the Tanana had left about 30 people in Salcha stranded for several days.

No emergencies were reported during that period and borough officials said residents appeared well-stocked with food and fuel.

The flooding has puzzled hydrologists, who are trying to learn what caused the river to rise and spread. For days, the cause had been described as an ice jam, but a look from the air on Monday showed no sign of an ice blockage. The National Weather Service, which is no longer warning of floodwaters, says the water trouble in the area could return through spring.

Meanwhile, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, at its meeting Thursday, unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to fix the Salcha flooding problem. Assemblywoman Bonnie Williams offered the resolution out of concern for the residents affected by the flooding and concern for the entire borough if things get so bad that the Richardson Highway is closed.

''If we lose the highway for a tourist season, we lose the traffic,'' Williams said. The assemblywoman also expressed concern about traffic between Fort Greely and the farther north military bases, Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright, should problems with the highway worsen.

''It would interrupt construction at the missile defense site,'' Williams said.

One of the solutions discussed was construction of diversionary spikes to alter the flow of the Tanana River at an estimated cost of $3 million to $5 million.



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