The recent boondoggle in a Soldotna-area bog with a rented excavator stuck in the muck will apparently have an effect on how efficiently snow is removed from Soldotna streets.
According to Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker, the city and state have had a standing agreement that if Soldotna uses city plows on the two highways running through town, the Department of Transportation will provide trucks to haul the snow away.
However, due to the recent state expenditure of more than $30,000 to remove a rented excavator stuck in Sevena Lake, the state can no longer hold up its part of the deal.
"They basically don't have much money," Boedeker said. "They have now spent money and they are short."
Boedeker said the cost to the state for the snow removal is between $6,000 and $10,000 cash the state is now short because of the expenditure on the excavator project. Because the money for the trucks is not a specific DOT budget item, but rather something that comes out of its general maintenance fund, the money used for the excavator pulled funds from the snow hauling program.
"It's all the same pool of money," Boedeker said.
It's not a case of the state cutting a program, Boedeker said, but simply of the state not being able to provide a service it has for the past couple years.
"It's not that they're pulling things," he said. "They're just broke."
The whole problem began when Fish and Wildlife personnel got a state truck stuck while trying to venture onto thin ice on Sevena Lake, north of town.
State personnel were eventually forced to rent a bulldozer to try and remove a second truck that got stuck trying to pull the first one free, but in the process got the 'dozer stuck.
They then rented a 22-ton excavator to try and free the bulldozer, and the excavator got stuck. Another excavator was brought in to free the bulldozer and truck, but the original excavator remained frozen in a swampy mess of ice, mud and debris.
That's when DOT was forced to bring in an Anchorage company, Thomas Development, which pulled the excavator free but not for free. Thomas' bill to the state totaled $29,500.
On Friday, Central Region Operations Chief Chris Thomas was in Adak and could not be reached for comment. Kenai Peninsula Road Maintenance Supervisor Carl High was out of the office until Monday, and also unavailable.
Boedeker said he's still not sure what the whole thing will mean for Soldotna's budget, though it's likely the city will have to find another way to haul snow away.
He's hoping Mother Nature will cooperate, and keep snowfall to a minimum for the rest of the winter. Already, he said, the city has spent more than half its annual snow removal budget.
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