Snow drought forces early halt to Intertie work

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Work on the Northern Intertie construction has shut down a month earlier than expected due to the lack of snow in the Interior.

Government permits require the ground to be frozen to a certain depth before electrical tower pilings can be installed for the power line stretching nearly 100 miles from Healy to Fairbanks.

According to Golden Valley Electric Association, which commissioned the project, the ground is thawing rapidly without adequate snow cover.

''I would have loved to have 28 inches of snow here this weekend,'' said Greg Wyman, association manager of construction services, referring to Anchorage's record snowstorm on Sunday.

The ground in the Interior is covered by 11 inches of snow, said Marvin Percha, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. That's about half of what it should be, he said.

''We've been dominated by a high pressure system, especially in the last few weeks,'' Percha told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A Chinook weather system, which brings warmer-than-usual temperatures, also has kept snowfall to a minimum, he said.

Under permit guidelines, construction work could have continued until April 15, weather permitting. An ice road was built in December so workers could install pilings and dead-end towers, a sturdy type of tower that will be used to help stabilize the line. The ground has to be frozen in order to minimize impact to the environment.

Wyman said the Bureau of Land Management asked that work crews and equipment be out of the federally managed Tanana Flats by Wednesday. State officials have given crews until the end of the week to leave state land.

A few pickup trucks and a backhoe were still in the right-of-way clearing south of Fairbanks Wednesday. A lone workman on state land attached couplings to pilings in preparation for contractors to place towers next fall. The pilings had been driven 60 feet into the frozen ground over the winter.

The line is scheduled to be operational by June 2003, Wyman said.

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