Shishmaref community votes to relocate

As determined by Tuesday’s submitted ballots, the community of Shishmaref will relocate to one of two potential sites. According to the Associated Press, unofficial results were 89 in favor of relocating and 78 in favor of staying in place and protecting.

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Shishmaref. (Photo: KNOM file)
Shishmaref. (Photo: KNOM file)

Two potential relocation sites have been surveyed and selected by a collaborative effort between the Army Engineer Corps and Shishmaref community members. Old Pond and West Tin Creek are both across the lagoon from Shishmaref, Old Pond is further inland than West Tin Creek.

Minnie Olanna, one of approximately 650 residents in Shishmaref and the chairperson for the elections judges, said there are many factors to consider when voting for relocation, including impending storms.

“I think that it might be better to leave, you know we’ve had mild storms, and they haven’t really been real bad like the one in the past,” Olanna said. “At least some of us think that we’re going to have a real bad one pretty soon cause these ones have been kind of mild.”

And about the future generations…

“What kind of persuaded my vote was just to think of our kids, cause I have an 8 year old daughter, and I thought of how she’d inherit my house, so got to think of her future,” Olanna said.

Another challenge that is a concern for some residents is how they will receive gas and oil shipments at either of the two relocation sites. According to Army Engineer Corps surveys, the land at West Tin Creek is shallow and is not deep enough for a barge or tanker to port while Old Pond would require a connecting road from Nome to be built in order for fuel shipments to reach them.

It is estimated that relocation will cost $180 million, but Mayor Howard Weyiouanna said protecting in place would have been the cheaper option

“From all of the studies and reports that the departments that we work with, the State and Federal government, they’re saying it would be, how do I put this, that it would be a whole lot cheaper to stay and protect instead of moving the whole community.”

Within the next year a follow up vote will take place in Shishmaref to determine which of the two sites the community will relocate to. The Shishmaref city clerk would like to remind the public that these unofficial counts do not include absentee or special needs ballots.

Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome.

Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located.

Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.

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