Native Village Of Napaimute No Longer Maintaining Kusko Ice Road This Season

Apr 9, 2021

The Native Village of Napaimute crew maintaining the Kuskokwim Ice Road 5 miles downriver of Kalskag, Alaska on Feb. 27, 2021.
Credit Mark Leary / Native Village of Napaimute

The Native Village of Napaimute has announced that the lower Kuskokwim Ice Road has closed. The ice road crew stopped plowing this week due to heavy snow and overflow. The crew will not plow or maintain the ice road any more this season.

“Typically ice road season wraps up early to mid-April. This year, conditions are too extreme,” said Mark Leary, who coordinates the Napaimute ice road crew. The crew, along with a team from the shipping and construction company Lynden, attempted to plow a road from Bethel to Tuluksak on April 6.

The road would have allowed Faulkner-Walsh Constructors to drive a water treatment plant to Tuluksak following a fire that destroyed the community’s water plant earlier this year. The plow trucks got about 15 miles above Bethel to the Kwethluk-Akiachuk Y, but could go no further.

“Besides the enormous amount of snow on the river, the overflow under the snow is severe," Leary said. "Besides the water that was under the snow, water from the surrounding area would start flowing out from the surrounding snow into the roadway.”

The overflow filled the road as fast as the crew plowed.

“When we decided to pull the plug and turn around, the overflow was already to the bumper of my truck,” Leary said.

With the overflow, the crew couldn’t detect the ice thickness. The plow trucks carry radars that measure the ice depth, but the radars can’t read ice covered in water. The crew couldn’t drill holes to measure the thickness either. The pressure from the multiple feet of snow on top of the ice meant that the water would be pushed to the surface, or “geyser out,” as Leary described.

“We haven’t had to deal with this much snow in a long time. As an adult, leading a crew, I don’t think I’ve had to deal with this much snow. And for our young guys, they’ve never seen this much snow,” Leary said.

The constant snowfall this season meant constant plowing and long overtime hours. Now, the plows are put away until next winter.