Trust to dedicate $ 20 million to regional water and sewer systems


By Diana Haecker
The Helmsley Charitable Trust of Colorado on Monday announced a $ 20 million grant to improve water, sanitation and hygiene in rural Alaska, primarily in communities in the Norton Sound / Bering area. Strait.
The grant is spread over three years and will be managed by Engineering Ministries International, a Christian nonprofit organization made up of architects, engineers and surveyors with a mission to design infrastructure to help communities.
The grant aims to improve the operation and maintenance of existing water and sewer services, establish a regional utility assistance program with Norton Sound Health Corporation to benefit the 15 communities in the Bering Strait region and to build community and household water and sewerage projects here. It also seeks to develop an access route to water and sewer services for unserved communities and homes.
The announcement was broadcast live on social media and hosted by ANTHC in Anchorage, another partner in the effort.
In the Bering Strait region, five villages – Diomede, Wales, Shishmaref, Stebbins and Teller – are completely lacking in water and sewage infrastructure. The sanitation systems of several other communities are outdated and failing.
According to Angie Gorn, CEO of Norton Sound Health Corporation, there is a sanitation need of $ 277 million in the Bering Strait region with 370 homes without clean water and more than 450 homes without water or sewers. “This is a silent public health crisis, and many of these deleterious health effects could be avoided if all residents had access to basic sanitation. This funding opportunity will help our communities fix aging systems, prevent emergencies, and move towards the dream of having water and sewer service, ”Gorn said when announcing the grant.
Gorn said the NSHC board has made the need for water and sewage systems a priority and that the body has created a standing water and sewage committee. “This concept of a tribal community utility assistance program – a cooperative – has been under consideration for some time,” she said. “But this opportunity was really the catalyst for us to stop and say, ‘Why aren’t we doing this today? Our communities are on board and express their gratitude for the technical assistance and support that will enable and enable them to maintain, manage and support local public service systems.
After learning about the potential benefits of starting a tribal cooperative in our area, she said, the NSHC Board of Directors pledged $ 500,000 per year as a grant for help support each community’s water and sewer budgets. “These funds will be combined with other funds and they will be used to help pay water operators competitive compensation and benefits at the local level. They will also be used to help start reserve accounts for each community. Other goals include cross-training of existing utility workers in villages so that there is always back-up support. We are in the process of engaging other community partners in our area and these funding sources and grants will be used to help reduce homeowners’ bills for water and sewage. Our tribal cooperative will continue to work closely with our ANTHC engineering team as well as upgraded technologies that will help detect issues faster and hopefully prevent our systems from failing all together ”, she declared.
NSHC hired Denise Michels from DOW Engineering to be the project manager and help develop the tribal utility co-op. The other regional partners are the tribes and companies, Kawerak and NSEDC and
The Rasmuson Foundation of Alaska served as a matchmaker to connect Helmsley to this region. Walter Panzirer, a director of the Helmsley Trust, with assets worth $ 8 billion, was on a 2019 “grantmakers trip” to Alaska, hosted by the Rasmuson Foundation. “When I arrived in Shishmaref, it broke my heart to see that here in America people do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation. We have a program in Helmsley that focuses on health and sanitation in African countries. I never knew it had happened in the United States of America, that it was a problem in Alaska, ”he said.
NSHC Chairman Preston Rookok from Savoonga described the challenges even in villages with water infrastructure. “Our water maintenance staff have to operate the village in the worst weather conditions. The cooperative will make sure that they are not alone and that they have the support they need, ”he said.
Joanne Keyes, from the Native Village in Wales, described her community’s water source. “We don’t have running water,” she said. The only place to shower or wash clothes is a communal laundromat, built in 1974. The local dispensary and school have water, but in their houses there are no toilets or showers. flush. “We have to go to the laundromat in bad weather. Our kids have to go too, in blizzard conditions and everything. Shishmaref has the same problem, I think it is very important that people start to listen to our needs and our problems and how we can solve the problems, ”she said.
Gorn, of the NSHC, said his organization was eager “to sit down at the table and define what the paths to service look like for these communities and really strategize on how we’re going to achieve that. .
“I just want to thank you for this gift,” she said. “It really is the springboard that has brought everyone together so that we can move forward together towards this vision.”

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