$3 million erosion-curbing sea wall damaged in first storm

Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006

KIVALINA - A new, $3 million sea wall designed to stop erosion in this northwest Alaska Inupiat village was damaged during the season's first storm.

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About 160 feet of the 1,800 foot wall protecting Kivalina was damaged Tuesday.

The storm came the same day state and federal officials planned to attend a ceremonial feast for the wall's completion. The event was canceled.

Tom Bolen, the public services director for the Northwest Arctic Borough, said the damage was disappointing and will require additional work next summer. A team of engineers were to fly to the village from Anchorage to assess what happened.

The damaged section of the 40-foot wide wall is closest to the sea. Officials say it may have become saturated with water and somehow broke free.

The wall is made from beach sand piled into rigid wire baskets lined with a synthetic fabric.

By using beach sand instead of shipping barges to the island cut the project's cost in half, officials said.

That, however, has left some wondering if the wall will ultimately work, especially since Tuesday's storm wasn't that violent - 40 mph winds and 4-foot swells.

"It doesn't add confidence," long-term resident Tom Hanifan told the Anchorage Daily News.

The borough will likely temporarily patch the damage using heavy nylon sacks packed with sand. Officials say these typically wash away after a several storms, but will protect the village until permanent repairs are made.

The good news for the village is that even though it was damaged, the wall worked. The village didn't lose any land in the storm.

The village is on a thin, barrier island nearly 650 miles northwest of Anchorage.

It's one of three Alaska villages predicted to wash away within 15 years if nothing is done to stop erosion. The others are Newtok and Shishmaref.

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