Disaster relief flows to Kake

State money to help keep water supply going in town with broken dam

Posted: Tuesday, August 01, 2000

The failure of Kake's dam led Gov. Tony Knowles to evoke the state's disaster laws late Monday to keep the water flowing.

Under state law, the move -- short of a disaster declaration -- allows the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to get to work on assuring there's safe water for Kake's homes and businesses.

Today, the water was still flowing, and life was returning to normal. The fish-processing plant was running, and though people are still tense, at least they can take showers again after nearly three days without running water, said Lonnie Anderson, mayor of the 800-person town.

``We're stabilized,'' he said. ``Psychologically, it's important that we get people back to work as soon as we can.''

The town's reservoir was drained after a waterborne tree smashed into and cracked a 50-year-old wooden dam across Kake's Gunnuck Creek about a week ago. The crack turned into a large hole, which state officials said cannot be safely repaired.

Pumps set in the creek have worked to fill up the town's holding tank, and are supplying enough water to serve residents and businesses, though it's a ``stopgap'' solution, according to Anderson.

So far, the state and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium have both aimed $10,000 at Kake to bring drinking water into town, according to a letter from Knowles to the Legislature.

Another $407,000 is thought to be needed to continue to pump water out of Gunnuck Creek -- to keep the taps running in Kake -- for the next six to nine months. After that, a project linking Kake to a lake 6 1/2 miles away via a pipeline should be completed.

According to Anderson, that project was intended to complement rather than replace the reservoir ruined by the dam failure. Conservation efforts are underway, but those won't be enough.

``There are a lot of ifs involved with that project,'' he said. ``We want to have a dam here.''

A new dam would cost well above $5 million, he said.

He initially thought the pipeline would be finished by October. He doesn't think so anymore. In the meantime, he's concerned bureaucracy will slow down a permanent solution to Kake's water supply problem. He doesn't know much about dams, he said, but he can't see why a dam can't be replaced.

``I'm a school administrator, not an engineer,'' he said. ``While we're standing around here talking, somebody should be working. I'm pulling in the engineers to figure out what we're going to have to have done.''

Bob King, Knowles' press secretary, said that if the pipeline isn't enough to serve the town, more can be done.

``If that's going to be insufficient for the community, including the hatchery, that's something we'll have to address,'' King said.

Nancy Parton, who works at the Nugget Inn in Kake, said lots of people lost wages during the water shutdown. Now, things are returning to normal, except for the 5-gallon buckets of water she's got at home -- just in case. People, she said, are wary of losing the water supply again.

``It could happen any time,'' she said.

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