Shungnak is a city located in the Northwest Arctic Borough of Alaska. Situated 150 miles east of Kotzebue on the Kobuk River; Shungnak is dependent on barges and river traffic for many of it’s supplies during the summer. The winter freezes of down to -60* render the river unnavigable for much of the year and only air travel connects the city to any sort of logistic supply. The land is composed of permafrost rendering any construction more difficult and expensive. Earthquakes have been known to occur but did not cause much damage within Shungnak.
Originally the community was founded further up river as a supply point for local mining operations. Supplies would be brought in by barge from Kotzebue and distributed throughout the area via trails, barely improved roads, and at times sled dogs. As the river shifted course the original site was no longer habitable in the same way and the community moved to a more stable location. The old site is now the village of Kobuk, while the new community was called Kochuk. Eventually however Kochuk reverted to being called Shungnak a derivation of the Inupiaq word for jade “Issingnak’.
Bering Air currently services Shungnak out of Kotzebue. The current Corona Virus plaguing the world however has disrupted the air travel industry, both through quarantines and the failure of Raven air, rendering the city’s 256 inhabitants severely isolated. Power and infrastructure all rely on diesel fuel imported this way and represent as significant danger of deprivation. In the past conditions have pushed the price of fuel to over $8.00 a gallon. The Ambler Mining District road would terminate North of Shungnak providing some connection to the Dalton Highway. This road is proposed as a toll/ mining road that would not however be for general use. In theory all goods not related to mining operations would still need to be barged up the river or flown in.
Shungnak currently derives it’s electric power from diesel generators. This is problematic due to the cost of fuel and fragility of the supply chain. Kotzebue is currently experimenting not far away with solar power and is set to install 1400 panels. If successful building out to Shungnak would reduce maintenance costs for both and provide a level of independence.
Tourism has potential if Shungnak develops it’s economy. There are only 4 registered businesses in the town and the sale of alcohol is prohibited. If mining operations provide jobs and there is a way for the economy of Shungnak to interact with the industry in beneficial manner the town could see major growth if the access project is completed. This could result in the facilities and businesses necessary to attract and maintain tourists looking for access to the wilds of Alaska. Currently though it looks as if economic development hinges on the Ambler access road.