Permafrost and Rural Engineering Projects.


Designing projects in Bush Alaska isn't easy.

With the federal government pumping millions of dollars into Alaska's rural villages for water and sanitation projects, engineers who may be designing these projects are taking a closer look at the region.

It's not a pretty sight.

The villages are often hundreds of miles from the road system, so materials and equipment must be flown or barged in. Runways may be too short or poorly maintained. Few villages have amenities such as hotels or restaurants for work crews, and the nearest hardware store can be hours away by plane.

The weather is often extreme and the ground can range from marshy to frozen to permafrost, each of which requires a different design approach.

Costs are high, and planning for contingencies, such as equipment breakdowns and other delays, is a daunting task.

Working in Bush Alaska is a challenge, but one for which Alaskan engineers are well-equipped to meet, with a lot of planning.

An Engineering Dilemma

"The logistics are absolutely incredible," says Rupert "Bucky" Tart, a principal in Golder Associates of Anchorage, which is working on a number of rural sanitation projects. "There are a variety of unique engineering challenges that only occur up here and some areas like this--as in Russia and Canada. It's even worse in Russia."

The first step is to get to the site for an evaluation, Tart says.

"Everything is transportation out there," says Tom Berglin of Clarke Engineering Co. in Fairbanks. "You have to charter a special flight to do anything.

"The big thing is location, location, location."

Knowing people in the transportation business is a big help because there is often a plane in the area that is returning to Fairbanks or Anchorage empty and is willing to make a short detour to pick up equipment, he says.

"To keep costs down, you're going to have to know a lot of people," Berglin added.

If the site is on a river, barging materials in is an option, but the window of opportunity is narrow.

Once crews and equipment arrive at the village, engineers have to figure out how to get workers and supplies to the work site. And then there's the problem of where engineers and other workers will stay.

Crews often find themselves sleeping in the school gym and bringing their own supplies. The nearest working indoor toilet may be miles away. The weather, especially in winter, can be vicious.

"You have to be aware of what those conditions are before you decide you want to do an...

To continue reading