Federal Spending Bill Allocates $30 Million to Relocate Alaskan Coastal Villages

By Ayana Byrd Mar 26, 2018

The Alaskan village of Newtok, which could be uninhabitable within years because of climate change, received an unexpected windfall in the spending bill signed into law on Friday (March 23) by President Donald Trump.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, “The bill doubles funding for the Denali Commission, which funnels federal money to help remote Alaska villages threatened by erosion and the impacts of climate change.”

In August 2017, reports emerged that the White House intended to eliminate the Demali Commission, the federal program tasked with crafting relocation plans and securing Congressional funding to pay for moves. So it’s suprising that the spending bill allocates $30 million to it. KTOO News reports that Joel Neimeyer, federal co-chair of the Denali Commission, intends to use the allocated money to move the Alaskan village of Newtok.

As sea ice melts, 31 Alaskan communities are threatened with coastline erosion and flooding. Scientists from 13 federal agencies concluded in a 2017 climate change report that temperatures in Alaska are rising twice as quickly as the global average. Of the communities facing destruction, Newtok is considered to be one of those in the most immediate danger. Per NPR:

The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska’s western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase—faster there than in the rest of the U.S.—the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. About 70 feet of land a year erode away, putting the village’s colorful buildings, some on stilts, ever closer to the water’s edge.

It has been estimated that the village, which has a population of 388 people, will lose use of its school and airport by 2020. It has already lost its barge landing, sewage lagoon and landfill.

The Army Corps of Engineers estimated it could cost $80 million to $130 million to relocate to a new village, Mertarvik, which is nine miles away. And while $30 million is only a fraction of that, KTOO reports, “The village plans to move used barracks from a military base in Anchorage and convert them into housing at the new site. Officials estimate moving the barracks will be significantly less expensive than building new homes, stretching out any funding.”

Neimeyer told KTOO that Newtok—the first village that would be relocated in Alaska because of coastal erosion—could become a model for other threatened towns. “If we in Alaska can show Congress we can take their funds and put it to good use, and show that we can do this efficiently, effectively and smartly, perhaps that will open up the checkbook for the other communities,” he said.