It took a little longer than planned, but a window of clear weather allowed the old Napakiak school fuel tanks to be moved to Bethel. The U.S. Coast Guard ordered the Lower Kuskokwim School District to empty the tanks to prevent an environmental disaster as the eroding Kuskokwim riverbank advanced towards the fuel site. Wednesday's forecasted storm could cause more erosion at Napakiak.
The Bethel-based company Faulkner-Walsh Constructors barged the 10 tanks from Napakiak to Bethel on Tuesday afternoon. Co-owner Steve Walsh said that multiple days of high winds and heavy rain delayed the move by a little over a week.
The Lower Kuskokwim School District will deposit the tanks at the former Kilbuck School site in Bethel, which burned down in 2015 and is being used to store the school district’s waste. The tanks previously held 36,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
The U.S. Coast Guard ordered LKSD to empty the tanks in August after the Kuskokwim riverbank eroded within 76 feet of the fuel site. LKSD contracted Faulkner-Walsh Constructors to build a temporary fuel tank farm in the Napakiak school parking lot and transfer the fuel into it. The Coast Guard gave the school district two weeks to complete the job, but extended the deadline by 24 hours to keep the crew from working through the night.
Napakiak City Council member Walter Nelson says that there has been more erosion during the past week’s storms, but the community has not assessed the extent of the loss. The National Weather Service is forcasting a fall storm with heavy rain and high southerly winds for Wednesday. Nelson says that winds from this direction drive the Kuskokwim’s waves into the Napakiak shoreline. He predicts that the road along the riverbank, which is already halfway gone, will disappear after Wednesday.