Tester Surveys Progress

By Beacon Staff

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., strapped on an avalanche transceiver and pulled a pair of walking spikes over his cowboy boots Saturday, before heading up to inspect the progress of repair and snow-clearing on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Washington D.C. may be a dangerous place, but home has its hazards too.

It was his first time wearing an avalanche transceiver, Tester said, adding that sliding snow isn’t a problem on his farm.

“There would be some major climate change issues if we started having avalanches in Big Sandy,” he joked.

Tester greeted the 12-man crew clearing snow and debris just below Logan Pass with two boxes of doughnuts, before making a beeline for the rotary snowplow.

The rotary snowplow resembles a snow blower on steroids, blasting snow and debris to either side of the road.

Before that can happen, an avalanche specialist scouts the area ahead on skis for potential hazards, explained Glacier’s Chief of Facility Management John Kilpatrick. If the avalanche scout gives the green light, bulldozers and excavators go in to start pushing the deep snow to either side.

Then the rotary snowplow moves in. Tester took a ride in the massive plow with its driver, Joe Bachurski, and checked out its engine – which the senator was pleased to hear ran on a fuel blend with 20 percent biodiesel.

The snow on either side of the road was 4 to 5 feet high, but closer to 10 feet up toward the pass.

The crew is making good progress, said Sean Bessinger, the road and fleets supervisor, adding “with all the debris that’s been under the snow it’s really slowing us down.”

Kilpatrick said the most substantial damage from last November’s “Pineapple Junction” storm is east of Logan Pass, but in many places of the western half the road’s guardrail is destroyed and large rocks litter the roadway, particularly near the Triple Arches section.

“It’s always an uphill fight when Mother Nature gets nasty,” Tester observed. “And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

As for when the road will be open to the public, “it’s anybody’s guess right now,” said Bessinger, but the crew is shooting for July 1.

Tester spent about an hour visiting with the road workers and taking in the view of the Garden Wall.

“I’m envious of your job location,” Tester told the crew, before heading back down the road.