Scott Kingeekuk, the primary water plant operator in the village of Savoonga, has been named Alaska Rural Water Association’s Wastewater Operator of the Year.
Kingeekuk and his crew are responsible for servicing the village’s water plant, the sewage lagoon, and handling repairs for Savoonga’s 600 residents. There are approximately 150 serviced buildings, all of which require regular attention from the village’s four operators.
Kingeekuk credits his success to two factors: “Hard work and I attribute a lot of it to my crew, I have a good crew. I really couldn’t do a lot without my guys.”
Kingeekuk has been working as a wastewater operator since 2011, when the former Primary Operator needed a hand.
“I actually went to a motorcycle mechanic’s institute in Arizona. I grew up on small engine repairs my older brothers brought me up on. I’ve always had a mechanical background,” Kingeekuk said.
Although he lacked formal training, Kingeekuk learned on the job and was eventually promoted. He says having a steady full-time job in the remote island-community is not something he takes for granted.
“There’s a small economy in Savoonga. It’s either the school, the store, the city, or the tribe for any kind of work.”
Despite this, operating the water plant can be mentally and physically taxing.
“At some point I did burn out and want to quit. Partly because our rate of pay was pretty low. I started at $16 an hour. Just a couple years ago they were able to go back and take a look at the rate of pay with operators in Alaska, and they were able to bring our rate of pay substantially up.”
As Kingeekuk has described, rural water operators play vital roles in their respective villages. When Chris Cox, manager for ANTHC’s Utility Collaborative, came to present the award in person, he emphasized how important Kingeekuk and his crew are to their community.
“Operators here are great. Some of the best in the region. They keep the toilets flushing, they keep the water pressure good, and the guys here know what needs to be done,” Cox said.
Image at top: Scott Kingeekuk of Savoonga has been named Wastewater Operator of the Year for Alaska.