Erosion is affecting Utqiagvik roads, cutural traditions

 Utqiagvik, Alaska. Oct. 12, 2019.
Utqiagvik, Alaska. Oct. 12, 2019. (KTUU)
Published: Oct. 30, 2019 at 10:34 PM AKDT
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Wind and water have been eroding roads and other infrastructure in Utqiagvik at alarming rates.

"It's been very dramatic and been accelerating over the last ten years or so," said Dr. Anne Jensen, of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation who is also a University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher. "There has been an ongoing erosion problem for quite some time."

In the small town, erosion from wind, water and other factors is causing big problems. On the north side, sandbags and a berm lead to a "road closed" sign, warning drivers of the dangers along an important path, one on which residents depend for subsistence fishing and hunting, as well as parts of their history.

"There was an entire one-lane road, and a berm, and a beach," Jensen said. "You have no solid ground, literally no solid ground to stand on, so what do you do? People's cultural heritage, ability to do subsistence, all being threatened by erosion."

If you do make it past the bumpy dirt road, don't expect to get far. An old boat launch is no longer, now that it's been flooded. Beyond, where there was once only land, there is now lots of water.

"Cultural heritage is important, and people connect to it in different ways," Jensen said, "some through language, some through dancing, some through subsistence. But for a lot of people, being able to connect with the places their ancestors lived is really critical and it's a way for some people - the way."

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