Alaska Story 2
Story and Photos by: Chad Hutson, Public Affairs Officer
Layout by: Cynthia Henry, Graphic Designer
The ALCAN Border Station sits on the Canadian border - a Yukon-area outpost and the only "town" in America whose services are provided solely by the General Services Administration (GSA).
While ALCAN is technically not a town it is recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau as having a population of about 20. Those 20 residents, most of whom work for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), rely on GSA for nearly every single service a city would typically provide.
In this unique arrangement, GSA provides water, heat, sewer, sewage treatment, self-generated electricity, and year round maintenance for this outpost because literally no one else can do it - and the next populated town is nearly 100 miles away.
The distance to another population center would make it nearly impossible to staff were it not for GSA essentially setting up this city in ALCAN.
Steve Evans, GSA's Northwest/Arctic Region Building Management Specialist visits this location monthly to ensure that CBP's needs are being met and the on-site Operations and Maintenance (O&M) team (contracted through GSA) is managing the facility well. Between Evans and the O&M team, they keep ALCAN operational.
"We're it. Everything from preventative maintenance, custodial and even snow removal are all on us," Evans said.
He even brings supplies to ALCAN when needed. During a recent visit to the station Evans unloaded cases of bottled water and equipment parts. His supervisor, Alaska Field Office Manager Tom Deakins, tossed in a couple of boxes of semi-fresh Krispy Kreme donuts dragged all the way from Anchorage, some 400-plus miles away.
But the GSA services run much deeper than supplies. About 15-feet deeper to be exact. Adjacent to the border patrol station sit several housing units occupied by the men and women who work there, along with their respective families. Underneath these units is a block-long tunnel running under the homes carrying all that's needed to keep life going in ALCAN.
Outside, in the negative 45-degree-cold, pipes would freeze in seconds and other transmission lines would seize as well. But in the tunnel, a labyrinth of pipes, wires, and conduits, it's a balmy 60 degrees. This is the lifeline to these homes and is inspected regularly by the GSA teams to ensure there's heat and water, at the very least.
The tunnel starts in a building adjacent to the station that houses boilers, water storage, and other equipment to keep ALCAN operational. That doesn't mean there aren't challenges. And when challenges arise it isn't like you can make a quick trip to Home Depot for parts or supplies to repair something.
"My nearest GSA support when I'm in ALCAN is 400 miles away. Good thing solving problems in the middle of nowhere is something I enjoy," Evans said. "And if you have a problem out here you have to be very real about your limitations."
Knowing those limitations helps the team plan ahead and anticipate what might crop up that could pose a problem to keeping their little city going.
Evans goes to Alcan every month either on the way to Skagway and Haines Alaska, where he'll spend the night and visit additional federal buildings, or on his way back to Fairbanks, some 700 miles away. He always stops in at the Alcan station to visit with Customs officers and ensure the services they are receiving from GSA are meeting their needs.
"It's about customer service. Are they getting what they need from us? It's an opportunity for me to visit with them and learn those needs," Evans added.
As Evans departed the station from a recent visit he walked past a box of Krispy Kreme donuts in the border station office - the same box he delivered two days earlier. Discreetly, he lifted the lid only to find the box empty.
"You have to remember, it's not just their place of work. These people live here and have their families here," Evans said. "There's a lot at stake."
But, as with the Krispy Kreme donuts, sometimes the needs of ALCAN go beyond the standard government-issued items. Sometimes, those little things are important, too.
Read more of the GSA "North to Alaska" series: