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Rural Alaska

Western Alaska village regains power after outage lasting a month

Newtok, located on the Ninglick River near the Bering Sea coast is relocating due to erosion, melting permafrost and flooding. Photographed on October 13, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

BETHEL — A Western Alaska village has regained electrical power after a monthlong outage during which some families lost subsistence harvests stored in freezers.

Newtok’s backup generator gave out in late August and power was not restored until Sept. 21, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

The backup failure happened three years after the main generator stopped working in the Yup’ik village west of Bethel.

Brief, intermittent outages are expected as testing of the system is completed, Tribal Administrator Andrew John said.

The delay in installing a replacement partly resulted from the challenges of connecting new generator parts to infrastructure that is more than four decades old, John said.

“The power generation system, it’s on an old analog system that hadn’t been upgraded since its installation in 1978,” John said.

The mechanic sent to repair the system had to stay in Mertarvik, 9 miles away and across the Ninglick River from Newtok. Boats can only travel between the communities during high tide, and John said conditions have been treacherous lately.

“Those guys were crossing the Ninglick River in 3-foot waves with breakers, white caps. That’s dangerous,” John said. “We’ve done everything that we can in the extreme weather.”

Sandra Ayuluk said she was among the Newtok residents whose food rotted in freezers during the power outage. She stayed with family in Mertarvik in recent weeks because the lack of heat in her home made the air smell damp and moldy.

Ayuluk said she has not yet received assistance from village authorities to replace her food.

She hopes the tribe will reimburse families for the gas they spent to power personal generators during the outage. Residents reported spending $20 to $50 per day on fuel.

The tribe plans to provide everyone in Newtok and Mertarvik $500 vouchers for the local store and $1,000 credits with the village’s power company, John said.