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Walker declares disaster for September storm

November 24th | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

The North Slope Borough will have access to help with recovery efforts for the autumn storm that pummeled the coastline earlier this year, causing more than a million dollars worth of damage.

Gov. Bill Walker earlier this month signed an official disaster declaration for the Sept. 28-30 storm, which opens up funding and assistance for the borough.

"...The severity and magnitude of this emergency are beyond the timely and effective response and recovery capability of local resources and emergency assistance is needed," the declaration reads.

Initially, the borough thought the damage could total about $10 million, though the state is now estimating it will cost less to make repairs.

As the Sounder previously reported, storm surge hit eight feet in certain areas, washing out some roads and covering others with sand and debris.

It destroyed about 3,700 feet of the beach road between the airstrip and Elson Lagoon, making travel to and from the hunting and whaling grounds difficult for a time. Floodwaters inundated Stevens Street, forcing a closure. A portion of Egasuk Street washed away, as well.

As it nearly did in 2015, the storm surge came close to breaching the drinking water lagoon system the city relies on.

The storm also destroyed a portion of the town's retaining wall, washed out some of the protective berm and pummeled about 1,200 feet of super sack sandbags, which will now have to be replaced.

"Seven historical town site lots on a bluff below Apayauk and Stevens Street have been undercut by storm surge wave action, and the top of the bluff along its entire length is unstable and beginning to collapse," the borough noted at the time of the storm. "It is estimated that the top of the bluff may recede as much as 10 feet after the supporting soil thaws."

While historical sites like these cannot necessarily be fixed, much of the remaining damage can, with the right funding.

By declaring a disaster, the governor opened up monies to help pay for this long-term effort by the community. As was noted in the declaration, the Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has been authorized to make funds "available for these purposes which are considered necessary for disaster expenses to include public assistance, administrative and disaster management expenses."

Along with financial support, the declaration allows state agencies to participate in recovery. A state coordinator may authorize various departments and agencies to work "in accordance with the state emergency operations plan" for local remediation.

The governor has previously declared disasters for poor salmon harvests, the opioid epidemic and other fall storms that battered the western coast of the state in 2016.

This declaration is welcome news to the hub community that is well-versed in the damage storms can do. The borough has recently been seeking to revitalize conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about plans for building a sea wall to protect the community from storms just like this one.

Funding and maintenance issues have posed a challenge, as has the difficulty of constructing a massive project in such a demanding environment.

But, until a permanent solution can be found, the borough must take what it can get and proactively work to prepare itself for whatever the next storm brings its way.


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