Alaska Seeks Federal Money to Move a Village Threatened by Climate Change
The state is hoping to kick-start an exodus from the village of Newtok, about 500 miles west of Anchorage, through a national competition for states and local governments vying for a slice of nearly $1 billion in grants to be awarded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency’s National Disaster Resilience Competition is being promoted as an effort to address climate change and extreme weather.
If successful, Alaska officials are proposing that $62.6 million of the money be used for relocation costs, including money for infrastructure and to allow 62 families from Newtok to establish new homes at a site on higher ground nine miles away. In the draft proposal publicly released Friday, state officials are also seeking a total of $162.4 million for three other vulnerable villages — Emmonak, Galena and Teller — that storms have extensively damaged in recent years.
But officials acknowledge that competing for the funding, which went unused by victims of Hurricane Sandy, will not be easy. Alaska is among 40 finalists for the money, including New Orleans. But Alaska officials are hopeful.
“We think we have a very compelling story to tell,” said Sally Russell Cox, a state planner who worked on the competition entry.
The release of Alaska’s proposal opened a public comment period before the final contest submission is due to the department on Oct. 27.
President Obama, in a recent three-day visit to the state, focused almost entirely on climate change and how temperatures are rising faster in Alaska than anywhere else, already threatening entire communities.
Newtok is the only one of Alaska’s several threatened communities that has begun a physical move. The Yup’ik Eskimo community of about 380 shepherded various multiagency projects, including the construction of several homes and the beginning of an evacuation community center, which would be completed with nearly $5.5 million sought through the competition.
The raging Ninglick River is taking over as much as 75 feet of riverbank a year, and is steadily inching toward homes. Melting permafrost is sinking, knocking homes and village boardwalks out of alignment.
Villagers say they are living on borrowed time, and they are lobbying for funding wherever they can find it. Newtok’s relocation coordinator, Romy Cadiente, was in Washington last month to meet with officials, including members of Alaska’s congressional delegation or their representatives.
The village is also trying to obtain money for some homes for the new site through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’re trying to really focus on how to get this village out of there,” Ms. Cadiente said in an interview Wednesday. “That shore is not going to grow back.”