The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Dangers still lurk in massive snow piles

Power company, city and others warn of hidden dangers


January 25, 2012

Photo courtesy of City of Valdez

Snow shovelers hired by the City of Valdez do a little well earned bragging.

Valdez officials issued a public service announcement at 5 p.m. Friday to say it was ending major snow removal operations and returning to normal functions. Thus ended a weeks-long crisis brought on by heavy snow loads from over 300 inches of snow that weighed in at over 90 pounds a square foot, causing first-ever snow day closures for all three schools and numerous headaches for officials and residents alike.

Despite the demobilization of the city’s temporary work force, numerous dangers remain lurking around each and every pile of snow.

“Copper Valley Electric Association would like to remind everyone involved in snow removal, whether commercial or residential, to be aware of the dangers associated with piling snow on, under, or near CVEA equipment, lines, and facilities,” CVEA said in a notice distributed January 10. “CVEA is asking everyone to keep an eye out for potential electrical hazards. Never approach or make contact with an electrical line or damaged equipment. If you see a hazardous situation, please contact CVEA immediately at 822-3211 or 835-4301. To report something afterhours, please call 866-835-2832.”

It also said state law prohibits equipment from operating with 10 feet of overhead electrical line and warned of electrical dangers lurking on the ground.

“The record snowfall received in Valdez so far this winter may be obscuring electrical equipment located directly on the ground and identified with snow markers,” CVEA said. “Make sure you are aware of the location of this equipment when moving snow.”

City officials also had additional warnings about snow pile hazards.

“The City of Valdez urges residents to make sure children do not play in any snow storage lots or any snow piles around town,” officials said. “These areas are dangerous, can have drop off issues, ice, and voids within the snow. Avalanches on snow piles are also of concern. Playing in snow storage lots anywhere in the City is strictly prohibited.”

Efforts to move large amounts of snow from city snow storage lots to the old Sea Otter property on the Valdez Spit are continuing.

Photo courtesy Allie Ferko/US Coast Guard

Icicles, if left unchecked, can also present a hazard to windows.

As of Tuesday, January 24, the National Weather Service reported 327.1 feet of snowfall in Valdez so far this winter, compared to a yearly average of 320 inches for the total season. A whopping 152.2 of those inches fell in the month of December alone, catching many off guard during the holiday season. Another 103.5 inches in January brought on a crisis, as city owned buildings - including schools – began to report snow loads that exceeded the capacity of design.

At the peak of the crisis, the city of Valdez had 190 temporary snow shovelers on its payroll, which rapidly dwindled to a core of approximately 110 dependable, full-time hands. The majority were laid off last Friday.

Valdez City Schools reopened all three of its schools Wednesday and resumed normal schedules for the first time that week.

How and when students will make up the lost school days remains to be seen according to Jacob Jensen, district superintendent.


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