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Vol. 19, No. 34 Week of August 24, 2014
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection: Specialist runs 100-bed camp in Galena

Taiga Ventures says size, scope of FEMA-funded facility expands its service capabilities; PacWest suffers from mining slowdown

Rose Ragsdale

Alaska-Washington Connection

Taiga Ventures specializes in providing full service camps on relatively short notice at remote locations throughout Alaska. Clients have conducted scientific research, oil, gas and mineral exploration, documentary and movie filming, winter product testing and environmental cleanups from the Aleutian Islands to the North Slope.

Taiga supplies all components from shelters to showers, four-by-fours to fuel systems and equipment rental to entertainment. Tents are adaptable to whatever purpose the client needs, from sleeping quarters to laboratories and computer rooms. The lodging and life support components are designed for rapid mobilization, can be easily shipped anywhere and are as simple or complex as the situation dictates.

But the Fairbanks-based firm may have taken on its biggest challenge ever in the fall of 2013, a task that ratcheted up the level of services that it delivers exponentially. At the behest of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, a unit of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Taiga established a camp in the Interior that has mushroomed during the past year from 40 beds to more than 100 beds.

The Galena challenge

The challenge came from Galena, Alaska, where the town was nearly swept away in May 2013 when ice locked up 18 miles downstream, creating a massive ice jam on the Yukon River. Residents, who earlier in the day had settled in lawn chairs to watch the annual river breakup, found themselves fleeing rapidly rising water and automobile-sized blocks of ice. Small fishing boats and rafts shuttled families to higher ground and shelters at the city school and the Galena Interior Learning Academy. Many took refuge at the Galena Interior Learning Academy, a former Air Force base protected by a dike. When water levels continued to rise and threatened to overtop the dike, the Alaska National Guard sent in aircraft to evacuate residents. Every person in the 450-member community survived, but 80-100 homes in the Interior community was damaged by the floodwaters, including some that were nearly submerged and separated from their foundations.

The disaster soon spawned a second flood, this time of humanity as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and scores of volunteers from across the nation poured into Galena over the summer to help the residents restore their homes and resume their normal routines. The state contracted with Taiga Ventures to set up the responder camp on the southeast corner of Galena’s airfield. The camp initially contained 40 beds, with five set aside to support the camp itself. The facility included a separate structure for the canteen and dining room, another for an office and a bathhouse with showers, bathrooms and a washer and dryer.

The camp, which has since been enlarged to house 95 volunteers and 10 Taiga employees, is fully contained and self-supporting. It was used through the winter and all spring and summer this. According to DHSEM, the original camp cost the state $3.5 million to ship, set up, operate and ultimately tear down, 75 percent of which funded by FEMA. More funds were spent as the facility was enlarged.

Air shipment required

Officials said timing played a role in the camp’s cost. Such facilities are typically used by mining and oil companies in the Arctic, and by July most are booked, not just for winter, but for the following summer. The Galena camp had to be shipped by air, since the barges were full, and the limited space available on them was set aside for materials used in the town’s rebuilding effort.

“We’ve had 100-person camps before but not for a few years,” said Bruce Bridwell, Taiga Venture’s general manager.

The sheer size and scope of the camp, plus the guests being volunteers from church groups and organizations in the Lower 48 rather than the scientists and other professionals for which Taiga typically provides such services has presented a little different sort of challenge, Bridwell said.

“Because of this project, we have expanded our capability considerably,” he said. “We formerly set up 25-person camps, and now we can do much larger camps.”

Another difference is the large camp’s location in a village rather than a remote setting.

Not only does Taiga provide all of the lodging and meals and support to keep the camp running smoothly, it also provides the volunteers with real-time telecommunication, including cell phone and wireless Internet services.

“Once the satellite connection has been made, everyone expects to have wireless and full Internet access as well as dish TV or satellite TV connections,” said Bridwell. “It’s pretty much standard camp requirement now.”

Other business

Taiga Ventures also manages several smaller camps for oil and gas companies and the U.S. military at the Point Lonely, Alaska demolition site on the North Slope this summer.

“We’ve got crews stretched out from the Interior to the Slope right now, but if it goes like it did last summer, we may end up in the Aleutians and in Southeast, too. We were all over the place last year,” Bridwell said.

Taiga’s sister company, Pac West Drilling, meanwhile, is suffering a 50 percent downturn in 2014, compared to 2013 sales and 75 percent down from 2012 sales, according to Bridwell.

“Most of our business at Pac West is the sale of drilling fluids to mining companies, and with Livengood and Pebble shut down, sales are slow. We’re still getting reliable business from Kinross Gold’s Fort Knox and occasional business from Pogo,” he added.

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