KODIAK — This summer, the city of Kodiak will begin the eighth year of the Aleutian Homes Water and Sewer Replacement Project, an ambitious effort to replace all water, sewer and storm drain conduits in Kodiak’s most densely populated neighborhood.
The project, which will need more than a decade before all is said and done, solves water and sewage leaks that have plagued Kodiak and cost the city millions of dollars.
In 1952, the Kodiak City Council unanimously approved construction of 350 rental housing units to solve “a grave shortage of housing units” in Kodiak. Roads were laid, pipes dug, and houses erected east of downtown Kodiak.
Aleutian Homes survived the king crab boom, the Good Friday earthquake and the king crab bust. Fisheries and faces changed, but Aleutian Homes stayed. So did the infrastructure that supported the neighborhood.
In 2005, neglected for a half-century, that infrastructure fell apart. Aleutian Homes’ decaying concrete-asbestos water mains broke, spilling millions of gallons of water. “We had two of them there in about 12 months apart,” said city public works director Mark Kozak.
Water main breaks are nothing new. Cold weather can freeze water within pipes or the ground around them. Careless construction can crack pipes, leaking water. Even the ebb and flow of pressure changes can take its toll.
In 2005, the scale of the problem was different. Instead of one or two patchable spots, the city faced thousands of feet of aged pipe.
Kodiak isn’t alone when it comes to this buried issue. On Dec. 23, the Houston Chronicle reported the scale of the problems facing that Texan city. According to the Chronicle, 15.2 percent of Houston’s water was lost to water main breaks in 2012 — enough to serve 383,000 people for one year.
Kodiak’s water problems are smaller but still staggering. In an email, Kozak described one water main break on New Year’s Day several years ago. Cold conditions froze junction boxes, and 1.2 million gallons of water disappeared into the earth before the pipe was closed.
At prices charged to visiting cruise ships, that much water is worth $6 million.
Kozak said most leaks don’t reach the scale of that Center Street break. “The majority of leaks repaired are small service line leaks and they typically do not show up on the system flow,” he wrote in an email.
Nevertheless, small leaks can add up, and there were more than a few small leaks when the city started to replace Aleutian Homes water mains in 2006.
Each summer since then, the city has torn up streets in Aleutian Homes, working in phases to limit cost. Up come the old concrete-asbestos pipes, and down go new ductile iron pipes good for 50 years or more.
This month, Gov. Sean Parnell budgeted $3 million in state money for phase 5B of the project. If approved by the Alaska Legislature, that money will be added to more than $5 million allocated in past years and millions more from the city.
Kozak said he envisions two more phases of work. This summer will focus on Thorsheim Street, while future work will cover Birch Avenue and Pine Crest Loop. “There are some more steps, and if we get that done in Pine Crescent, that’ll pretty much finish up with it,” he said.
Aleutian Homes isn’t the end, however.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday earthquake, which devastated downtown Kodiak. New water mains were part of urban renewal projects that followed the disaster. By the time Aleutian Homes is done, it will be time for the city to start work downtown.
“That’s the goal,” Kozak said.