Bethel’s water and sewage delivery trucks may have to run partially full because inspection officers from the Alaska Department of Transportation said that the weight of the fully loaded vehicles is risking damage to the highway. How this will affect drivers and the residents who depend on those services is still being worked out.
Last week, two inspection officers from the Alaska State Department of Transportation informed the city's Public Works Department that some water and sewer trucks are overweight by about 7,000 pounds.
The DOT noticed an article in the Alaska Dispatch News and decided to come out to Bethel for an inspection, according to DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy. The Department is recommending that the trucks carry smaller loads, up to three-quarters full.
No tickets were issued for this trip, said McCarthy.
And the bottom line for the city?
“We had to lighten the loads in our trucks by about 1,000 gallons,” said Bethel City Manager Pete Williams.
Williams said that he’d heard that other inspections were carried out across town on various trucks delivering liquids. The city uses two types of trucks for water and sewage: 3,000 gallon tankers and 4,000 gallon tankers. The end result for customers is not yet known.
“We don’t expect the impact to be felt until after the first of August,” said Williams.
The beginning of the month is when the city starts their monthly water deliveries, which tend to be larger and take longer to complete. That's when the city could start getting behind on water and sewer deliveries.
Williams says that they might be able to keep up, but it might come with a lot of overtime that would end up being cost prohibitive.
Williams is still inquiring about what changed, but one factor is certain - the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation expansion has increased the burden on the city's roads.
“There’s been a lot more dump trucks on the road. There’s just been a lot more truck traffic,” said Williams.
Williams said that the DOT told him the excess weight was causing the highway to sink. Williams disagrees.
“We contend that the highway,” said Williams, “the frost heaves and the bad spots in the highway, are due to the permafrost thawing and then heaving.”
And that, Williams said, doesn’t have anything to do with the weight of the trucks. But vehicle weights are largely a matter of federal law.
McCarthy said that the DOT inspectors will be coming out again, and that any trucks they find to be overweight will be ticketed.