Temporary Dalton closure puts trucks behind schedule

Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The temporary closure of the Dalton Highway has put Carlile Enterprises a week behind schedule to get 20 million pounds of drilling mud to a Beaufort Sea barge in September.

The mud is bound for Northstar, a BP Exploration (Alaska) offshore drilling pad and the waiting barge is the last before freeze-up.

The Department of Transportation closed the highway last week after heavy rains and snow forced creeks out of their banks, eroding massive chunks from the gravel road.

DOT reopened the road early Tuesday after repairs were made, but with the warning that drivers use extreme caution in soft, narrowed areas of the highway.

''That's part of doing business,'' said Steve Gyzebski, Carlile's Fairbanks terminal manager, adding that he has experienced drivers who know the 416-mile unpaved road well.

The barge to Northstar is slated to leave port by the end of September, but that depends on ice conditions, said Paul Laird, BP spokesman.

The road closure has not affected BP's other operations, he said.

Phillips Alaska wasn't affected either, said Dawn Patience, Phillips spokeswoman. Other trucking companies and a few northern villages were affected, but the act of nature wasn't unexpected.

''The Dalton Highway is kind of a unique animal,'' said Dwight Stuller, DOT Dalton Highway District manager. ''There are washout and floods every year. You just never know where.''

Late last week, rain and melting snow caused several washouts on the highway. The most serious was located at Mark Creek, 72 miles south of Deadhorse. The flooded creek washed out three culverts and about a 30-foot section of road. One lane of the road was reopened early Tuesday and flooding elsewhere along the road subsided.

Gyzebski anticipated the opening and sent trucks laden with mud and other goods out late Monday night. Carlile sends 20 to 40 trucks a day up the Dalton Highway, he said, and the delay will likely cost him tens of thousands of dollars.

Lynden Transport in Fairbanks sent trailer loads of modular units up to Happy Valley, just south of the 345 Mile washout, and parked them, said Art Delaune, Lynden's terminal manager.

Those units, living quarters, kitchen and bathrooms, are meant for the barge, too, he said. He sent full trailers out Tuesday and those drivers will ferry the units to Deadhorse in the coming days.

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