Newtok is on the move

Newtok residents will eventually relocate to the village of Mertarvik, pictured here on August 9, 2018. The relocation project is well underway with a major increase in construction planned for Summer 2019.
(Photo credit Katie Basile / KYUK)

It’s taken more than 20 years, but the Newtok relocation effort is going into hyperdrive this summer, according to an update from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium relocation team. A huge construction crew is headed to Mertarvik to build the infrastructure for relocating Newtok, the community threatened by climate change-fueled erosion.

The plan for the 2019 construction season includes a long list of projects.

The 6,000 square-foot community center built last summer will be outfitted with a couple of bathrooms, a small kitchenette and dividers to set it up to function as a temporary school.

Crews also plan to construct a large building to house the electric generators for the relocated community. The building, large enough to hold all generating capacity for the entire population of Newtok when they arrive, will be equipped with smaller modular generators, providing just enough power for those moving to Mertarvik this year. More generators would be added as needed. Electric lines will also be installed from the power station to the community buildings and houses expected to be completed next summer.

The eight houses built last summer will be joined by 13 more this year, for a total of 21 residences. A network of roads is also scheduled for construction in 2019, along with a tiny sewer lagoon and piping to the community center and the construction crew’s housing.

The construction crews will include 40 people from the National Guard helping to build the new community.

The plan is for a section of the roads connecting the various facilities to also function as an emergency landing strip. Bulk fuel tanks are going in this summer, along with distribution pipes to move fuel to community facilities, and a distribution center for residents to tank up for their needs.

Modular water systems and decentralized sewage systems will be installed in the 21 new houses that will be completed by the end of summer. There will be no honey buckets. Instead, the solid human waste will be dried, burned, or disposed of in a new landfill, which is also due to be built by the quarry next summer.

The plan is to equip Mertarvik to house 100 to 150 people next year. While that is happening, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium will also be working with various agencies and funders to organize and plan the next stage of the Newtok relocation effort, with a goal of relocating everyone by 2023. That includes a new school and health clinic in the village.

Johanna Eurich is a contributor for the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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