Haines takes stock of damage: Some homes destroyed, others unsafe

A crew from Alaska Power & Telephone work to reconnect power to residents of Lutak Road on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Haines, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The Haines Borough is continuing to catalogue damage sustained during the extreme weather event that occurred earlier this month. State and federal agencies will use the information collected in Haines to determine the relief they will provide.

At a meeting last night, interim borough manager Alekka Fullerton said that a total of nine homes were destroyed after heavy rains caused landslides and flooding. Fullerton said it is difficult to determine exactly how many people remain displaced.

“It’s hard for me to know how many people actually are displaced because some people just changed their plans and left the community. I do know that we have 17 people who are currently being housed by the Red Cross,” Fullerton said.

Some residents have returned to areas of Haines that were previously evacuated after geologists determined it was safe to do so. However, residents living near the landslide on Beach Road have been ordered to stay away from their homes.

“The EOC is currently working with homeowners in the Beach Road evacuation area to allow them to access their homes for a limited period under certain conditions, knowing that it’s a geologically unsafe area,” Fullerton said. “Beach Road access is closed and barriers have been erected.”

Fullerton urged residents to make a record of property damage sustained during the storm. There is a page on the borough’s website to report damage, and forms will be mailed to all Haines residents.

Fullerton said reports could include information about cracked walls, wet basements, failed structures, damaged foundations, failed culverts, fallen trees, cracked driveways and other property damage.

“This will help us identify areas in which infrastructure can be improved. It will also help outside agencies identify areas in which they can assist,” Fullerton said. “Currently, the State of Alaska disaster declaration does not authorize individual assistance, but reporting damages to your property inches us closer to that declaration.”

Meanwhile, the borough is working to assess damage to public infrastructure. Fullerton said there are concerns about the community’s structurally compromised freight dock.

“The Lutak Dock sustained damage. There is a new sinkhole that opened up. We took lots of pictures and are including it in our damage reports. We don’t know where the material went. We filled it in. That’s going to take some ongoing investigation.”

Six years ago, engineers warned that the dock is at the end of its life and at risk of failing. Barges are now offloading goods on a ramp that bypasses the dock face as a safety precaution.

Recently, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) expressed interest in developing an ore transfer facility at the Lutak Dock.

While some residents see the construction of an ore terminal as an economic opportunity that could help repair critical infrastructure, others have raised concerns about the potential for environmental damage.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Haines Borough Assembly voted to have the interim borough manager engage in discussions with AIDEA about its proposal.

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