Grant aids rural backhaul pilot program

A $120,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant will allow a non-profit Anchorage firm to address waste issues in 30 rural off-the-road Alaska Native villages accessible only by summer barge, boat or small aircraft.

The Backhaul Alaska program developed by Zender Environmental Health & Research Group aims to coordinate hauling hazardous waste out of rural Alaska, beginning with a pilot program for community electronics, lead acid batteries and fluorescent light bulbs, and will developed over the next decade.

“This money helps to ensure that community-based concerns are addressed, and community-based measures of success are used in evaluation and refinement of the program,” said Lynn Zender, executive director of the firm.

These funds will go partly to 15 new offroad pilot communities throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Interior, and Northwest Arctic, and partly toward development of materials that are identified as needed by communities in conducting outreach, including Yup’ik transition as needed,” she said.  “This funding provides a mechanism for pilot and other communities to evaluate the program and ensure it works for rural Alaska.”

The pilot is in two phases, with two groups of communities, and the grant is focused on the second set of villages, which are not yet selected, she said.

Zender Environmental is currently working with Alakenuk, Arctic Village, Chefornak, Ekwok, Golovin, Kolinganek, Nightmute, New Stuyahok, Pilot Station, Russian Mission, Toksook Bay, Unalakleet, Unalaska and Venetie.


Zender said that Southeast and Chugachmiut villages are planned in the phased rollout which begins in the 2021-2022 timeframe.

Contributions from communities is still being worked out.

“A big piece of the pilot program is determining costs, including local program staff and local basic infrastructure costs, in addition to shipping and recycling costs,” she said.

The EPA funds for such programs nationwide total $1.2 million in cooperative agreements with 10 organizations, including Zender Environmental.

The money comes through EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving program, which supports local organizations’ efforts to develop and implement community-driven solutions to environmental and public health issues in minority, low income, tribal and indigenous populations. Programs selected for 2018 reflect an emphasis on support for rural communities and watershed protection, EPA officials said.

More information on the program, including previously funded grants, is online at