Retrieving Excavator From Lake Costs Alaska $29,500

Sat January 17, 2004 - Midwest Edition

KENAI, AK (AP) A 22-ton excavator stuck after trying to remove state vehicles has been pulled from the muck of a lake near Soldotna.

An Anchorage contractor pulled the piece of heavy equipment from near Sevena Lake on New Year’s Eve at a cost of $29,500.

Steve Thomas, who owns Thomas Development Inc., said the excavator was delivered to the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) and Public Facilities’ maintenance yard in Soldotna.

“We’re assessing the damage now,” said Chris Kepler, Central Region maintenance and operations chief.

Kepler told the Peninsula Clarion that workers were able to start the machine’s engine.

The first of a succession of stuck vehicles bogged down Dec. 8. A Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement truck broke through ice as an officer drove out to check licenses of ice fishermen on the lake.

A second bureau truck tried to free the first and also got stuck. That’s when DOT was called in.

DOT rented a bulldozer, which managed to pull one truck free before it, too, became mired in the soupy mix of ice, water and dirt at the edge of the lake. The 10-ton bulldozer spent the night at the site.

The next morning, DOT personnel arrived with the 22-ton excavator, rented from another company. The machine slipped off wood mats designed to support it while trying to free the truck and bulldozer.

A private contractor was brought in with a second excavator. The contractor pulled the truck and bulldozer free but could not free the excavator.

On New Year’s Eve, Thomas Development arrived on the scene with a 44-ton excavator brought up from Seward, as well as a truck with a 30-ton capacity boom. After placing logs and steel mats on the ice, the excavator and truck managed to lift the original excavator.

J.R. Thomas said the excavator had extensive damage.

“It’s dinged up quite a bit,” he said.

The total cost to the state for the incident has yet to be determined.

In addition to removal, DOT and Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement man hours, and as yet undetermined repair costs to the $160,000 excavator, there’s the expense of renting the equipment.

“We’re going to work with the rental company on that,” Kepler said.

The excavator was rented on a $600-per-day contract, according to the rental company.