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Quinhagak’s tribe issues disaster declaration as power outages continue into 5th day

Gabby Salgado

Quinhagak's tribe has signed a disaster declaration as the community continues to deal with a power outage that left the community without power on Friday, Dec. 8 during freezing weather.

Throughout the weekend, the southern half of the community, which includes most public buildings and more than 50 homes, didn't have power.

As of the afternoon of Dec. 12, only one of Quinhagak’s three generators was functioning. According to tribal administrator Darren Cleveland, the community was running on a system of brownouts, providing three hours of power at a time to the north and then south side of the community to get heat around, with the hope that short bursts of power would prevent freezing pipes.

“Getting frustrating right now as days continue on without power,” Cleveland said.

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) runs the village’s electrical utility. AVEC technicians have been working since shortly after the power outages began to fix the generator issues.

Cleveland said that the main goal is to get the power back on. He said that the tribe declared the disaster with the hope of securing state funding and resources to deal with all the costs associated with an extended power outage in freezing temperatures.

“Right now we don't know any of the damages in the homes because the power's out,” Cleveland said. “But we're anticipating that once the lights get back on, the power gets back on, we're anticipating homes with burst pipes once their homes thaw, once everything's restored. So we're anticipating a lot of water damages.”

Cleveland said on Dec. 12 that one of the tribe’s biggest concerns is the power outage at the water treatment plant, where some pipes are already frozen. The Native Village of Kwinhagak’s disaster declaration stresses that the water and sewer system are at immediate risk of freeze up and catastrophic failure.

The local school, clinic, water treatment plant, stores, and other homes and businesses were relying on their own generators for heat. However, Quinhagak City Administrator Tracy Pleasant said that those generators are also starting to have issues since they've been running for so long and the power has been on and off.

“Our school canceled today because they were having generator issues,” Pleasant said. “Ours at the water plant broke last night.”

Classes were canceled on Dec. 12 when the school's backup generator stopped working and were tentatively canceled for Dec. 13 as well. The school had been the emergency shelter for the community.

“Because if the school's generator’s out, there's no use for the community to go to the school right now with the power alternating three hours on the north side, three hours on the south side. So at this point, there's no place in the community to shelter,” said Cleveland.

In the meantime, Quinhagak is at a standstill. Cleveland said that the village has limited service at the clinic. Quinhagak’s airport is the main way in and out of the community, and the runway lights have been out because of the outages. Cleveland said that with limited winter daylight, that’s a major concern in case of medevacs or other emergencies.

“Everything's closed right now,” Cleveland said. “Even post office is closed. Washeteria’s closed. All tribal offices are closed. School’s down. So this is having an effect on the whole community.”

The tribe’s letter to the state emphasizes that the village doesn't have the funds or response capability to cover the emergency. In its declaration, the tribe wrote that it has formed a working group with the local government and the State of Alaska Emergency Operations Center. Moving forward, the tribe is requesting the assistance of the State of Alaska for disaster relief aid. The municipal government is also working on its own disaster declaration.

Eric Brown recently stepped down as the Quinhagak Power Plant operator. He said that parts to repair one of the two broken generators were expected to arrive on the evening of Dec 12.

Brown said that he thinks one of the generators, which they’ve had for more than 15 years, broke down from being too old. He said that the other was installed two or three years ago, but has had multiple issues since it went online.

This article has been updated to correct Eric Brown's role in the generator repairs and clarify areas experiencing power outages.

Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.
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