ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A Newtok official said the federal funds allocated to the village to help homeowners whose land has become threatened by erosion are life-changing.
George Carl, the village’s council vice president, said the funding “is like saving our people in that small village,” Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.
“I’d like to thank who made this possible . Thank you very, very much,” Carl said.
Newtok is rapidly losing land to a combination of erosion and thawing permafrost. Residents expect they’ll have to abandon their homes within a matter of years.
The village first decided to move in 1994 and acquired a new site several miles away in a land trade with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. The village has been piecing together funds for the move ever since.
The cost of moving the entire village is estimated at well over $100 million. And while the $15 million in this year’s spending bill is just a fraction of what Newtok needs, village council president Paul Charles said it will make everything else possible.
“It’s not that the whole village is going to relocate all at one time, but $15 million is a lot of money to build (homes),” Charles said.
The village’s relocation plan is to retrofit old military barracks from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage and barge them out to the new site. Engineers estimate that will be cheaper than building new houses from scratch, helping to avoid some of rural Alaska’s high construction costs.
If all goes well, the new funding plus existing grants could go toward the construction of 28 houses at the new site, village relocation coordinator Romy Cadiente said.
Cadiente said the goal is to have people living at the new site full time by fall 2019.
Cadiente said the new site, Mertarvik, would be a permanent community. He said he hopes it would have enough residents to be eligible for traditional infrastructure funding, including money for a school, an airport and water and sewer systems.
“We hope to attract additional agencies with the message, ‘This is not a conceptual design anymore,'” Cadiente said. “‘This is a real, active project. Can you please help us?'”