Road workers on ash watch

Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009

Street and road maintenance personnel in the central Kenai Peninsula area, like many residents, were keeping a watchful eye on the sky for any significant ashfall from the Thursday morning eruptions of the Mount Redoubt volcano.

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Photo By Mckibben Jackinsky, Homer News
Photo By Mckibben Jackinsky, Homer News
A cloud of steam and ash rises more than 60,000 feet above Mount Redoubt on Thursday, to the north of Homer. The mountain is about 70 miles to the northwest of the town.

By mid-afternoon, no ash was seen in the Kenai and Soldotna area, and clouds over Cook Inlet continued to obscure views of the mountain 52 miles across the inlet. Later in the day, the clouds broke long enough to give central peninsula residents a glimpse of the 10,197-foot peak.

Soldotna's response will depend on the exact type of ashfall and on the weather, according to Steve Bonebrake, Public Works manager.

"It's my understanding heavy ashfall is generally accompanied with rain or snow," Bonebrake said. "Snow we can handle."

In anticipation of possible ashfall over the city, air handler equipment on city buildings including city hall, the public library and the police station were shut off.

Bonebrake also recommended that people shut off heat recovery systems they may have on their private residences.

When asked if the city would be plowing streets in the event of a heavy ashfall, he said, "We would plow the streets when they become impassible.

"We have not had to deal with plowing ash (off the streets) before," he said. "I doubt if we would plow it to the middle of the road," as is Soldotna's practice for removing snow from city streets.

The state highway department would plow peninsula highways if a significant snowfall occurs during an ash event, according to Rick Feller, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

"We've taken appropriate measures to protect our equipment (from ash damage)," he said.

"If there's a thick ashfall, it would be a hazard to all those working outdoors," Feller said.

The DOT's response would be determined at that time.

Because of the caustic effects of volcanic ash on vehicle engines, Kenai's reaction to an ashfall event would become a determination of putting equipment at risk, according to Public Works Director Wayne Ogle.

"We have a list of lower-value vehicles to use," he said. "If possible, we would try to not put high-value equipment at risk.

"Of course, in the event of a fire or other emergency, we would use whatever is needed," Ogle said.

When asked whether the city would plow thick ash off streets or wet it down, he said, "The first rule of any unusual circumstance is not to make it worse. Sweeping (the streets) would cause a cloud."

As a precaution, Kenai workers are covering all computers and other office equipment overnight and the city has a call list of building administrators in all city buildings in the event building ventilation systems and computer servers would need to be shut down.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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