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Rural Alaska

Napakiak’s erosion-threatened fuel tanks safely moved out of village

The Napakiak School fuel storage facility sits 76 feet from the riverbank erosion point along the Kuskokwim River in Napakiak, Aug. 16, 2019. (Photo courtesy Coast Guard)

BETHEL - Clear weather has allowed a school’s fuel tanks to be removed from an Alaska village where they were threatened by riverbank erosion.

A barge on Tuesday transported the fuel tanks 15 miles on the Kuskokwim River from Napakiak to Bethel, KYUK-AM reported .

The U.S. Coast Guard ordered the Lower Kuskokwim School District in August to relocate the 10 tanks holding 36,000 gallons of diesel to prevent environmental damage.

The Coast Guard originally gave the school district until Aug. 30 to complete the work, but extended the deadline by 24 hours to prevent the crew from working through the night.

Multiple days of high winds and heavy rain delayed the move by more than a week, said Steve Walsh of Faulkner-Walsh Constructors, which operated the transport barge.

The school district was expected to deposit the tanks at the site of a former Bethel school that burned down in 2015 and is being used to store the district's waste.

Accelerated erosion has been responsible for more than 100 feet of lost shoreline near Napakiak this year.

There was additional erosion during the past week's storms, but the community has not yet assessed the extent of the loss, said Napakiak City Council member Walter Nelson.

A National Weather Service forecast issued Wednesday indicated the possibility of a storm with heavy rain and high southerly winds that could cause more erosion.

Those winds drive waves on the Kuskokwim into the Napakiak shoreline, Nelson said. He predicted the road along the riverbank, which is already half gone, would disappear after Wednesday.

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