U.S. considers closer watch on volcanoes – July 13, 2006

U.S. considers closer watch on volcanoes

The Oregonian

Portland, Oregon
July 13, 2006
By Richard L. Hill

Interior chief – Visiting the Northwest, Dirk Kempthorne says all that’s needed is money
VANCOUVER — The nation’s new secretary of the interior said Wednesday that plans are being considered for an expanded monitoring system to keep watch on hazardous U.S. volcanoes.
Dirk Kempthorne, who recently succeeded Gale Norton as head of the Interior Department, said that “we would like to have more monitoring capability” of volcanoes that would provide for rapid notification of unrest and eruptions.
Kempthorne said money would have to be found for more detection and communication systems, but said there’s a cost benefit to protecting lives and property from volcanic activity. “There’s no such thing as a remote volcano,” he said, because ashfall and mudflows from eruptions can affect communities far from a mountain.
The former Idaho governor and U.S. senator made his remarks during a news conference at the Cascades Volcano Observatory, which is operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the agencies he oversees. A report last year by agency scientists said several of the Northwest’s volcanoes — including Mount Hood, Crater Lake, South Sister and Mount Adams — need increased surveillance.
A flight for Kempthorne to view the Northwest’s most active volcano, Mount St. Helens, was scrapped Wednesday because of weather.
Kempthorne, who grew up in Spokane, made the observatory the first stop on his first official trip as interior secretary. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination to the post by President Bush six weeks ago.
In response to a question about the financial problems faced by the National Park Service, Kempthorne said he is committed to keeping the federal parks in sound physical shape. He said the Bush administration and Congress have committed $4.7 billion to a park maintenance backlog that has completed 6,000 projects.
A recent article in The Oregonian reported that national parks in the Northwest are feeling a financial pinch because of rising operating costs. Officials at Crater Lake National Park, for example, have been unable to fix two of the park’s three snowplows because of a lack of money for repairs.
“We will continue to work on the operations budget,” Kempthorne said, noting that the Bush administration is seeking a $23 million increase in the parks’ operating funds in next year’s budget.
Richard L. Hill: 503-221-8238; richardhill@news.oregonian.com

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