Breached dam leaves Kake without drinking water

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2000

KAKE (AP) -- A breach in an aging wooden dam this week left Kake without water for drinking or the town's seafood processing operation.

The dam failed Tuesday, and a 12 foot hole drained the town's reservoir. The damage started when a log slammed into the face of the dam, fracturing a structural beam and punching a hole about the size of grapefruit, Mayor Lonnie Anderson said.

''There was about six feet of water going over the spillway at the time and there was no way in heck that people could even get near to do anything and just had to stand there and watch and every so often you'd see the hole widen,'' Anderson said.

Local officials had feared the dam would break all at once and wash away a $10 million hatchery downstream, but now they worry public health and the town's economy will suffer from a lack of water.

Heavy rains returned Thursday, similar to the downpour that brought the tree down Gunnuck Creek into the dam Monday.

''We've got plenty of water, but none of it's usable,'' said Anderson, who has declared a disaster and appealed to state and federal officials for help. ''We're down to skin and bones. Hopefully, we can get some aid.''

The state says it's too dangerous to repair the 54-year-old wooden dam, he said, leaving the town with few choices.

''Do you have $4 million or $5 million to replace our dam?,'' he asked.

The town is down to 250,000 gallons in a holding tank, which is being kept in reserve in case of a fire. Crews were working to pump untreated water into a holding tank so it can be piped into town.

The town of Petersburg sent a container of 3,000 gallons of drinking water to Kake on a state ferry Thursday.

''Hopefully, that will help them out a little bit, so at least they'll have drinking water,'' said Bruce Jones, public works director for Petersburg.

Business in town has all but shut down in the middle of the peak summer season, Anderson said. Two-thirds of the town's workers are idled.

''We can't process fish without fresh water,'' said Sam Jackson of Kake Tribal Corp., which runs the town's fish-processing plant. ''It's the height of seafood processing operations and everything has come to a screeching halt.''

A project intended to supplement the town's water supply by connecting Kake with a lake more than 6 miles away isn't slated for completion until October, Anderson said.

State officials have told Kake that the dam appears to be too unsafe to repair.

Annalee McConnell, Gov. Tony Knowles budget director, said officials were meeting Thursday to figure out what to do next. Money to repair the city-owned dam would likely come from the federal government, she said.

No decision has been made on whether Knowles will declare a disaster, she said.

The dam built in the 1950s has had other structural damage for some time and has been out of compliance with state safety regulations.

Sondra Meredith, a mother of two small children, lives next to Gunnuck Creek.

''Right now, it's a novel thing,'' she said. ''You have to get used to it. I have two young children. I'm worried about their health.''

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