U.S. Coast Guard Says Napakiak Erosion 'Occurred Faster Than We Could Have Anticipated'

Aug 22, 2019

People ride on a four wheeler in front of the Napakiak school fuel tanks, which sit 76 feet from the Kuskokwim River following accelerating erosion. Pictured here on August 8, 2019.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

The U.S. Coast Guard calls the Napakiak school fuel tanks an “environmental hazard” to the Kuskokwim River and has ordered the fuel’s removal. An officer says that the Coast Guard could not issue the order until the situation got serious enough.

The U.S. Coast Guard last inspected the Napakiak school fuel site on October 11, 2018. At that point the tanks sat less than 200 feet away from the Kuskokwim riverbank. The bank had already shown rapid erosion; it had lost more than 70 feet in less than two months earlier that year.

In an email to KYUK, Coast Guard Petty Officer Nathan Hatfield says that the Coast Guard was aware of the bank’s erosion during its October visit, but did not consider it an “imminent and substantial threat.”

"We do not have the authority to direct the facility owner/operator to take action until that imminent and substantial threat exists," he wrote. "The rate of erosion over the past year occurred faster than we could have anticipated, so it has only recently reached the threshold of 'imminent and substantial' threat."

News reports alerted the Coast Guard to the close proximity of the river to the tanks. On August 16, the Coast Guard ordered the Lower Kuskokwim School District to remove the oil from the Napakiak school tanks by the end of the month. The tanks contain about 36,000 gallons of diesel fuel and sit 76 feet from the river.