Permafrost: Engineering for Change


Credit: Cold Climate Housing Research Center

I’m a relative newcomer to Fairbanks. I’ve lived in the ‘Golden Heart City’ almost 35 years. But that is a drop in the bucket for those who were born or raised here. And when you consider Alaska Natives can mark their time in millennia, I’ll always be a cheechako. But whether you’ve lived here a season or a lifetime, almost everyone agrees we are in a time of transition. Wet, icy conditions now seem to plague Fairbanks each fall, turning our roads into those found in Anchorage or Seward, not the Interior.  News reports offer a drumbeat of accounts about degrading infrastructures and coastal communities imperiled by rising water levels.

This episode I talk to the engineers who are tackling these issues.  Later in the program, I’ll talk with Doug Goering, who recently received an award from the American Society of Civil Engineers for his work in the north. And the Cold Climate House Research Center is offering a class on building on permafrost.

But I begin with my conversation with Paul Perreault.  Paul and I both used to work for the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks. He was the diocese’s engineer, pilot and a deacon. As engineer, he was responsible for building and maintaining over 50 structures in almost as many communities scattered across the northern half of the state. What impressed me was how he married his considerable engineering skills with an ability to listen to and respect the knowledge and experience of the villagers with whom he worked.  Paul eventually left the diocese to get his doctorate in engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As you’ll hear, he wanted to respond to the conditions he was witnessing.

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