The 41-year-old fuel tanks for the village of St. Michael are bright yellow with spots of rust, perched like uneven teeth in the snow. The units are refilled from a barge in the summer, when the ocean is ice free.
The tanks did not pass a recent Coast Guard inspection. One of the tanks was not allowed to be refilled. Grant writer Virginia Washington said the Coast Guard is afraid that if the ground shifts or creates another sinkhole due to the melting permafrost this summer, one of the tanks could collapse.
As soon as the city received the inspection results, she called an emergency meeting of St. Michael’s leaders.
Mayor Bobbi Andrews, who presided over the emergency meeting, said that if nothing changes, the community could be out of fuel by next December. An extended period without fuel would prove disastrous for St. Michael, which has already endured an unforgiving winter this year.
Washington explained the main water line froze several months ago and half the village is still without service.
“Without fuel we can’t keep nothing warm. Not even the water and sewer. This is a crisis,” Washington told listeners.
The city government, Native corporation, and the tribe united in a request for emergency assistance from the Alaska Legislature. The million dollar estimate includes bulk fuel tanks, a safety berm, an access pipe to the coastline, and a fuel station. A state commission is currently working with the city to address the situation.
Washington lauded her colleagues for coming together on short notice, creating powerful results.
“I’m really happy that our leaders were able to speak today. That’s our first step. Now we need to send it to the state to include it in the office of management and budget. It will happen.”
Image at top: Grant writer Virginia Washington at her work station in St. Michael’s City Hall.