by Phillip Manning ~ September 17th, 2013
Plans to remove a submerged eighteen ton bulldozer from an alpine lake are moving slowly, and state agencies are trying to work out who is responsible for recovery and cleanup efforts. Those efforts have hit a snag, as the parties involved have stopped sharing information with the state.
The bulldozer is resting at the bottom of an unnamed lake near Talkeetna in the Chase Community area. It was part of a “Cat-train” on its way to Stephan Lake Lodge when it broke through the ice on May 10th. The convoy was on its way to the lodge to put in a camp and airstrip for studies related to the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. Donald Kiehl, who was operating the D6 dozer, lost his life when the equipment fell into the freezing water. Since then, the State of Alaska has been looking to the three potentially responsible parties for a plan to extract the bulldozer and clean up any potential damage from spilled petroleum products.
The issue is complicated by the fact that any of three parties could potentially be held wholly or partially responsible. According to an interview in July, Cliff Larson, Permitting Manager for the Department of Natural Resources, says the permit that allowed the convoy to travel on state land was issued to Ben Stevenson, who is affiliated with Stephan Lake Lodge. Larson said that this would make Stevenson ultimately responsible for any recovery costs, though he added that it could be possible for him to work out an arrangement with the contractors. Those contractors are Alaska Diversified Services, who ran the convoy, and Kiehl’s Welding and Salvage who was a subcontractor.
The exact nature of their contracts is unknown. Shannon DeWandel at the Department of Environmental Conservation says that none of the involved parties have given the terms of those contracts to the state. She says that if an agreement is not reached between the involved parties, that it is possible that state agencies could conduct the recovery of the bulldozer. The state would then sue for reimbursement from the party or parties ultimately found responsible.
DeWandel says that Global Diving and Salvage recently sent a remotely operated vehicle into the lake to assess the situation. She says that assessment should be available to state officials soon. DeWandel says a likely scenario involves a two-stage approach of floating the bulldozer using airbags, then removing it once the ground freezes enough to allow heavy equipment to cross the tundra.
Alaska Diversified Services and Stephan Lake Lodge did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.