Snow and Avalanche Center 2008 Avalanche News

No more avalanche forecasts for Juneau after city ends contract
(Published March 16, 2008)

JUNEAU, Alaska — The city has not renewed its contract with an avalanche forecast center that operated for one year, spurring a mixed reaction from residents. City Manager Rod Swope said he couldn't discuss why the contract will not be renewed, telling the Juneau Empire that the decision occurred behind closed doors in an executive session.

One hotel and more than 60 homes are in avalanche zones, however, city attorney John Hartle said the city had no legal requirement to provide an avalanche forecast to citizens living in the slide paths.

Last year, the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center monitored the snowslide threat and posted forecasts online. Avalanche expert Bill Glude oversaw the forecasts for the two neighborhoods, at the foot of Mount Juneau. "After 12 years of beating my head against the wall without pay for the benefit of the community, I'm resigning and moving on to focus on the consulting work and teaching that have always paid my bills," he said.

Butch Holst, who has lived in one of the avalanche zones for 30 years, said he doesn't think much about avalanches and didn't care for last year's forecast system. "If I thought about it, I'd scare myself," Holst said. "He (Glude) was scaring the living daylights out of people," Holst said. "People on this block were running for the hills every other day."

Holst's neighbor, Tom Hall, has lived on Behrends Avenue for seven years. Before reading last year's forecasts, Hall said he never seriously thought about the avalanche danger at his house.

Glude said he submitted a bid for $50,000 to forecast for three months, but told the city he really needed twice as much to cover the entire season from November to April. In total, Glude said he needed $156,096, with about one third coming from other sources.

He said negotiations got stuck when the city only wanted to fund the three months and not the full season.

"The city wanted either a forecast for the few months they thought were the highest danger, or six months for the price of three," Glude said.

Juneau Realtor Sean Paul said last year's avalanche buzz from officials, forecasters and the media didn't hurt home sales in the danger zones.

"You would think it would have made it harder," he said. "It's counter-intuitive, but it helped to talk about the possibilities and got it out to the public."

Without the avalanche forecast, Swope said the city relies on information about the snow from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Eaglecrest Ski Patrol.

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