Two Western Alaska towns receive $25M each in grant money to relocate

Increased effects of climate change the guiding force behind announcement to move villages of Newtok and Napakiak
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 9:43 AM AKST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KTUU)- The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Wednesday that millions of dollars in federal aid is headed to tribal communities, including two in Alaska, meant to assist in relocation efforts.

It’s big news for the towns of Newtok and Napakiak, two rural villages in Western Alaska that have been dealing with environmental impacts from climate change for quite some time.

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced two $25 million grants, one for Newtok and one for Napakiak to assist in their relocation efforts”, Garrett Boyle, the federal co-chair of the Denali Commission, told Alaska’s News Source.

Federal officials say they are distributing money as part of their work with communities that have been and are expected to be severely impacted by climate-related environmental threats.

For Napakiak and Newtok, that means working with community leaders to begin the process of relocation. Phillip Carl is the Newtok village council administrator and says he has seen the extent of the erosion firsthand.

“We need to get those homes built as soon as possible, because erosion is really bad,” Carl said. “It’s not safe for people living there.”

Carl said he hopes that the money will go toward building more homes, especially after the remnants of Typhoon Merbok landed in Alaska this fall, pummeling coastal communities and heightening the urgency to prepare for future flooding and erosion issues.

“To be safe is the most important thing and we just don’t want people living there because every time we have floods, it reaches some of the houses and the storm we had was a total — the worst flood we ever had,” Carl said.

Research shows Newtok has experienced progressive coastal erosion from ocean storms, as well as degrading permafrost. After multiple erosion studies, it was determined that there is no cost-effective way to stop this process, with the current rate of erosion at about 70 feet annually.

“The goal here is to take about the next four months and work with these communities to discover what their needs are, what their goals are and then bring all of the federal agencies to bear, not just BIA, but also the Denali Commission, Housing and Urban Development, probably the Army Corp of Engineers, the EPA and others, and match those agencies with the needs of these communities, and figure out exactly how we need to move them, where they want to go and how they want to do it,” Boyle said.

This is a major step, the commission says, but it’s an effort Newtok leaders have been working on for decades, with nearby rivers expected to threaten structures within two years and critical infrastructure within four years.

“I don’t really worry for myself, but for the children and the elders, and all the people that live there,” Carl said.