The Arctic Sounder

Kotzebue city to waive water fees for residents on failed Swan Lake loop during the emergency

The Kotzebue City Council approved the first steps for replacing Swan Lake and Lagoon loops and decided to waive the water and service fee for residents serviced by Swan Lake Loop that failed this month.

Those were the two resolutions the Kotzebue City Council passed during the regular City Council Meeting last week.

The city’s largest water main failed around Feb. 5, affecting 190 homes — or about 700 people. Last week, 61 lines, or 74 households, were without water. Over 50 households were still frozen as of Monday, city officials said in a meeting about the water service interruptions. Following the failure, local and state officials declared an emergency earlier this month.

Waiving the fees

The city council decided during its monthly meeting last week to waive the water and sewer utility for all residents on the Swan Lake loop from February for the duration of the crisis, said City Manager Tessa Baldwin.

“We understand that this has been extremely frustrating and people have been just getting by because of the situation,” Baldwin said to KOTZ radio after the city council meeting. “So the council and quite frankly myself felt that it was not fair to charge residents for something that they were not receiving.”

The decision applies to anyone on the loop regardless of their water status, Baldwin said. Residents on this loop will still get billed for garbage pickup and removal.

Response efforts

The Native Village of Kotzebue, the city’s Public Works Department, NANA and other entities have been delivering water to those who lost water service. They have been calling people every other day to check in on the status of their water and sewer lines.


In addition, the city has been distributing flags for people on the loop so they can put them out to notify water delivery drivers that they are low on water.

In other action, the city has been ordering sanitation products for households that don’t have sewer services.

“Usually, we have about 33 homes, or people, who request honey bucket services year-round,” Baldwin said during the radio broadcast. “However, that number has more than doubled due to Swan Lake Loop failure.”

The city asked residents to notify officials if they have a frozen water or sewer line so that they can receive sanitation products or honey bucket services.

To fix the Swan Lake Loop failure, the city ordered another piece of ground thaw equipment with the help of Drake Construction Inc. The city is also considering hiring a second contractor through Point Hope’s Tikigaq Corporation.

“We’ve been struggling with the capacity to keep up with the number of homes that are freezing,” Baldwin said. “Hopefully they could alleviate that situation but it’s still in the works.”

Replacing the loop

While the city is working to mitigate the emergency, its long-term plan is to replace the Swan Lake Loop that failed, as well as the Lagoon Loop that services the Maniiḷaq Health Center and teacher housing.

“It’s a dilapidating aging infrastructure that we’ve had many, many issues with,” Baldwin said about the Lagoon Loop.

Last Thursday, the city passed a resolution giving the city permission to apply for the State Revolving Fund for the beginning phases of replacing the water loops. Specifically, the funding will cover the preliminary engineering report and then will go into planning and design which will take up to a year.

The State Revolving Funds traditionally works as a loan program through the state of Alaska. Communities get prioritized based on their needs for water and sewer services, and Kotzebue qualified for up to $2.5 million in loan forgiveness.

The total cost for replacing one of the loops is around $14 million, Baldwin said, but $2.5 million should be sufficient for the first stages and might leave extra to go into a construction phase faster.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.