Major repairs underway at Nome-Council Highway
By Megan Gannon
At least 30 workers from the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities and Knik Construction are putting in long days to get the Nome-Council Highway open before freeze-up.
The gravel road suffered major damages between Nome and Solomon when Typhoon Merbok pummeled Alaska’s coast nearly two weeks ago. As of Monday, the crew was centered around mile-16 just past Cape Nome. They’ll face one of their biggest challenges in the section between the 24- and 25-mile markers, where a breach occurred and opened a new waterway between the Safety Sound and Norton Sound.
Calvin Schaeffer, the DOT&PF’s maintenance and operations superintendent for the Western District, did not have an exact measurement or depth of the breach, but said it was not as big as it was during the storm. He hoped that the low fall tides would create favorable conditions in the coming days and weeks to fill in the breach.
“Our plan is to stockpile material on the side of it and have it readily available to fill it all at once,” Schaeffer said. “There’s a big push to get this open and get it done.”
He discourages people from driving on the road unless the really had to be there.
People who lost campsites along the Safety Sound or are cut from their camps in Solomon and Council are eager for the road to reopen.
“We’ve been watching and keeping an eye out on the progress of the road condition, which would enable us to get more supplies or trucks to get the things we need to get to the cabins to clean up,” said Cynthia Gray, who is Nome Public Schools’ human resources manager and part of the Native Village of Solomon.
Gray ventured out last Monday, just days after the storm, hoping to check on Solomon’s structures as well as her family’s fish camp at mile 22, but she was only able to make it to mile 17 in a side-by-side. She returned the next day with a boat to make it across the lagoon.
“You could see where cabins were that families had built over years and years, and there was nothing there but an outline of a cabin literally on the ground,” Gray said. “I’ve never seen that before. That was quite devastating. I think that this probably topped quite a few of the other storms.”
As Solomon and other communities seek to rebuild, Gray said discussions of relocating or moving campsites are “disheartening.”
“Lots of people have asked, ‘Why would you have cabins there anyway?’ And our answer is that this is the way of our life. You follow the subsistence calendar. And if [the campsite] is nestled next to the ocean, that’s just what our grandparents did. I know that there have been people who say, ‘Well, would you relocate?’ And honestly, I don’t think people would opt for that, just because we’ve spent so many years where we are. It’s not that easy. It comes with a lot of emotion and a lot of tradition and family history.”