How Alaska’s Drake Development handles the coronavirus problem above the Arctic Circle

Toby Drake (proper) and Daniel Paajanen, the corporate chief know-how knowledgeable, subsequent to one of many barges they’ll use to move tools and supplies up the coast of Alaska as soon as the ocean ice thaws.

To have any hope of hitting their annual budgets this yr many contractors might want to put the pedal to the steel when the coronavirus restrictions are lastly lifted. And even then there might be logjams, crowded jobsites, shortfalls in supplies, logistical hiccups and delays in getting permits and perhaps even funds.

Such situations are par for the course in Alaska, nonetheless, the place everyone has to get 12 months of labor performed in, at finest, six months.

Our 2020 Contractor of the 12 months, Toby Drake, proprietor of Drake Development in Kotzebue, Alaska, is not any stranger to shortened seasons. Working 33 miles above the Arctic Circle, the place the solar doesn’t come up for a month in winter and doesn’t go down for a month in summer time, in wind chill temperatures that drop beneath minus 30-degrees frequently, Drake’s strategy to building is nicely price finding out for any contractor who has misplaced a portion of their  building season to the Coronavirus.

Drake doesn’t provide any magic options, nonetheless. He says there are actually solely three key phrases to recollect when working in Alaska: planning, planning and planning.

In case your principal plan for the yr is Plan A and your fallback place is Plan B and your emergency response is Plan C, you should still want Plans D, E, and F on the shelf, within the books, able to go when issues change. As a result of change they’ll. They have already got.

And we’re not simply speaking operations plans, however logistics, trucking, funds, tools availability and utilization, personnel, bidding and estimating, subcontractors, climate delays and supplies. Even small adjustments to your exterior circumstances will ripple via virtually all points of your organization.

“We simply picked up a brand new job for this yr price about $3 million,” Drake says. “I’ve been planning for what occurs if its delayed wherever from per week to 2 months. With the Coronavirus it’s apparent you must make much more plans now, as a result of as soon as we’re on the downhill aspect of issues it’s going to be blow and go. If we’re simply now starting to plan for that job, it’s not going to occur.”

In a weather-shortened season you do no matter it takes, together with flying tools to the job website in a cargo airplane.

Drake realized this lesson early on from his father Wayne, who’s retired now, however began the corporate a long time in the past. He says he distinctly remembers as a teen coming house within the wee hours of the morning after an evening of carousing together with his buddies and seeing his dad on the kitchen desk, yellow authorized pad in hand, writing out element after element of what needed to occur subsequent to maintain the roles transferring and the cash coming in.

Alaska has state tips on what you possibly can and may’t do concerning the coronavirus. Due to the chilly and snow, the development season hasn’t began but, however the state DOT has already put out its personal tips and lots of the small cities and native villages have their very own protocols.

For concern over the well being of lots of the elders within the tribal villages individuals who don’t reside within the villages aren’t even allowed to come back inside shouting distance of any of the residents for something. This provides one other layer of complexity to the planning course of for Drake and all of the contractors who work in Alaska.

Drake Development, nonetheless, takes all these problems in stride. It’s enterprise as regular.

Along with having to work with three federal regulatory our bodies: OSHA, MSHA and the Coast Guard (they run tools and supplies on barges), Drake as a matter of routine should additionally work with federal and state businesses in addition to tribal councils, and typically take care of all of those entities for only one venture.

33 miles above the Arctic Circle, Drake’s building operations put the well being and nicely being of the Native American villages and elders they serve above all different concerns.

However as a Native American from the Athabaskan tribe in Alaska, Drake is all too conscious of the significance of the Coronavirus restrictions and has no complaints.

“All of us agreed to delay one venture 30 days simply to see what occurred,” he says. “And we’ve been conserving in shut contact with all our ongoing tasks. Each life is extra essential to us than a building venture.”

The massive barges are rolled up on airbags on the finish of the season and rolled again out to sea when the ice thaws.


A grader pulls the barge ashore to safe it at a building website.










The crew cab takes on a unique which means on job websites the place there aren’t any roads.

Gear heads up river on one among Drake’s smaller barges.

The corporate’s pit is situated a couple of miles upriver from Kotzebue. From right here together with his fleet of barges, Drake can provide all his personal gravel wants and fill orders for different contractors working in northwest Alaska.