Newtok regains power after month-long outage

A mechanic for the Ungusraq Power Company stands inside Newtok’s power house, which has been out of service for the past month. (Romy Cadiente / Newtok Village Council)

The village of Newtok has power again after a months-long outage that caused families to lose entire summer subsistence harvests stored in their freezers.

Newtok’s backup generator gave out at the end of August, three years after its main generator died. Installing a replacement has taken longer than anyone expected. Tribal Administrator Andrew John said the delay was partly due to the challenges of hooking up new generator parts to existing infrastructure that’s over four decades old.

“The power generation system, it’s on an old analog system that hadn’t been upgraded since its installation in 1978,” John said.

On top of that, John said the power company’s mechanic has been contending with mother nature.

“This tide, the tide is not on our side for this week,” John said.

The mechanic is from out of town, and John said there’s no lodging for him in Newtok. He’s been staying in Mertarvik, 9 miles across the Ninglick River. Boats can only travel between the two sites at high tide, and John said the conditions on the water have been treacherous lately. Despite that, John said the mechanic traveled to Newtok every day.

“Those guys were crossing the Ninglick river in 3-foot waves with breakers, white caps. That’s dangerous” John said. “We’ve done everything that we can in the extreme weather.”

Although the power came back on Monday, Sept. 21, John said there will be short, intermittent outages over the next few days as the mechanic finishes testing the system.

Sandra Ayuluk was one of the Newtok residents whose food rotted in their freezers. Over the past few weeks, she has been staying with her family in Mertarvik. That’s because she said the lack of heat in her home in Newtok has the air smelling unhealthy.

“Like damp. Moldy,” Ayuluk said.

Ayuluk said she has not yet received any help from the tribe to replace her food. She also hopes the tribe will also reimburse families for the gas they spent to power their personal generators during the month-long outage. Residents reported spending $20 to $50 a day on gas.

Tribal Administrator John said the tribe intends to give everyone in Newtok and Mertarvik a $500 voucher for the local store and $1,000 credit with the village’s power company.

“That is still the plan and we haven’t been able to, you know, print out and all that because of no power,” John said.

He also said he’s asking Newtok families if they lost any food during the power outage, and if so, how much. The tribal administrator said they are still figuring out what they can do for those families. But he promised that help, in some form, is coming.

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