Corps of Engineers team reaches Alaska frontier to assess four US land ports of entry

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District
Story by James Frisinger

Date: 11.25.2013
Posted: 11.25.2013 17:15
News ID: 117359
On the road in Alaska, Corps of Engineers makes do with restaurant space to complete mission

SKAGWAY, Alaska - A Corps crew of five answered the call “North to Alaska” this summer. Destinations: Poker Creek, Skagway, Alcan and Dalton Cache.

If these sound like frontier outposts, they are. Each is a land port of entry on the Canadian border.

For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it is all part of one mission. Relying on strong support from many districts, USACE has been performing a comprehensive facility inventory at more than a hundred land ports. This will help U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the planned takeover of building operations, maintenance and repair from the U.S. General Services Administration in 2014.

Alaska is a land of vast distances, stunning glaciers and enormous mosquitoes that sting rather than bite. Last summer also brought the logistical challenge of a furlough Friday, which affected half the team in the middle of the trip.

“The entire thing was kind of surreal, the experience of a lifetime,” said Rebecca Fulks from the Huntington District.

First stop was Tok (population 1,258), a seven-hour drive from Anchorage. It served as a base of operations for site visits to Poker Creek (the nation’s northernmost land port) and Alcan (population 33). Each is two-hour drive away.

The second half of the trip meant flying from Anchorage to Juneau to connect on a 10-passenger Wings of Alaska plane into Skagway. To reach the final port, Dalton Cache, the team had this transportation choice: drive it (nine hours), take a ferry (two hours) or take a puddle-jumper plane (five minutes). They flew.

Fulks works in the quality management section at Huntington, but is a self-confessed jack of all trades. She gained experience with the program just a month before with trips to land ports in Maine and Vermont. As team lead in Alaska, she was liaison to the ports.

She and her team worked together and made sure all assets were covered and inventory forms completed. She was also responsible for organizing the paperwork with photos for delivery back to the Fort Worth District, which runs the program.

Fulks said there was a strong team environment throughout the visits, including the invaluable assistance from CBP point of contact Jim Hendley. The team also kept as light a footprint as possible.

“We signed in, introduced ourselves, did what we had to do and got out of there so we didn’t disrupt what they had to do,” she said.

At one port, the assigned work space was spartan: the mechanical room.

“It was kind of funny: one desk and there were five of us. We spread out the blueprints of the building on the desk and that left us on the concrete floor doing our paperwork. We made do with what we had to get the job completed,” she said.

Fulks was bitten by local mosquitoes she described as “huge” and “monsters.” Their sting itches and burns the skin.

Her teammate arrived for breakfast at the hotel one morning wearing sunglasses, complaining there was something wrong with her eye. An allergic reaction from a mosquito bite had swollen it shut. So it was off to a clinic for treatment. Not being local, her system wasn’t used to the bites, the doctor explained. The remedy: Benadryl and some DEET on the bill of her cap to avoid a repeat.

It worked.