A NEW ICE-DETECTING radar will begin watching the Valdez shipping
lanes within the next month as a result of a unique cooperative
effort involving various government agencies, shippers, the military
and the oil industry.
The $1.3 million radar system will allow the U.S. Coast Guard and
shippers to greatly improve their ability to track icebergs that
calve from Columbia Glacier and float into the path of passing vessels.
Cmdr. Payton Coleman, commanding officer of the Coast Guard marine
safety office in Valdez, said the new radar will be a major step
forward in protecting ships from ice damage.
At present, ships entering and leaving Valdez Arm, including oil
tankers, depend on radioed ice reports forwarded by mariners passing
through. The Coast Guard uses that information to determine whether
tankers can sail at night or are restricted to daylight-only passage.
Coleman said the relayed information is often old. Some ships reaching
the area off Columbia Glacier find that the ice is worse than anticipated.
And in some cases they are tied up in port waiting for ice to clear
when it actually moved out hours before.
The need for a more sophisticated ice-tracking radar was determined
from a two-year assessment of shipping risks in Prince William Sound
conducted in 1995-96. The lead in the drive to obtain the radar
was then taken by the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory
Council, an oil industry watchdog group funded by the Alyeska Pipeline
The radar itself was obtained with funding from the Coast Guard,
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Alaska
Department of Environmental Conservation and the Oil Spill Recovery
Institute in Cordova.
In-kind support was provided by many agencies, organizations and
industries. Those included Prince William Community College, North
Star Terminal & Stevedore Co., Crowley Marine Services Inc., Samson
Tug & Barge Co. and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Alaska Tanker Co. shipped the radar's tower from Port Angeles,
Wash., free of charge. The U.S. Army used its helicopters to place
the tower on Reef Island. Alyeska Pipeline also provided helicopter
support and is providing power to the island.
Rhonda Arvidson, radar project manager for the Citizens' Advisory
Council, said the radar's cost would have been far more than the
$1.3 million without the in-kind donations.
Buying and placing the new ice-tracking radar required support
and approval from many organizations. Hopefully it will serve as
a model for other such projects.
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