Napakiak loses access to a main road as riverbank erosion persists

Side-by-side photos, taken from the same location, show the amount of riverbank lost in Napakiak over the past three years, comparing August 2016 to Aug. 4, 2019 following a heavy storm. (Photo by Andrew West via KYUK)

Early August storms tore more land away from Napakiak’s already heavily eroded riverbank. About eight feet of bank fell into the Kuskokwim River, adding to the more than 100 feet of shoreline that has already been lost this year.

Barriers now block access to a main street in Napakiak after the river crested the road. Napakiak City Council member Walter Nelson watched southerly winds drive the current into the riverbank.

“It was banging on the road. It’s almost gone,” he said.

From Aug. 2-4, winds gusted up to 46 miles per hour, and 2.39 inches of rain fell. That’s just under the total amount of rainfall from the prior two months; 2.91 inches of rain fell in June and July.

As the water rose, the community retreated from the approaching shoreline.

“The past couple of days we had to pull a couple of boats out with our big, heavy equipment out of the water,” Nelson said.

Welders dismantled two empty fuel tanks owned by the village corporation, each tank capable of holding a couple thousand gallons of diesel. Workers have now moved them away from the river to the other side of the community.

Napakiak moved its city garage and fire house earlier this summer, continuing the community’s decades-long work of pushing its buildings and homes farther from the water.

What it can’t move are the 10 towering school fuel tanks sitting 48 feet from the approaching river, or what’s behind those tanks: the Napakiak school. The responsibility for those structures falls to the Lower Kuskokwim School District.

Nelson doesn’t know how long the land will hold. Fall storms are approaching, and state funding for the school project remains uncertain.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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