Cooperative Effort Supports . . .
Valdez ice radar

Voice of the Times
Anchorage Daily News, May 8, 2002


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 Service Co.

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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