Federal government to fund relocation projects for 6 Alaska communities

Aerial view of a village with buildings interspersed with frozen wetlands
The Lewis Angapak Memorial School stands above other buildings on Wednesday, April 3, in Tuntutuliak, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The federal government will fund relocation efforts for six Alaska communities threatened by erosion and flooding. Most are in the Yukon-Kuskowkim Delta, where erosion and flooding are pervasive problems. The projects will play out over time, and other threatened communities can still apply for funding.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on March 4 that it will pay for Alaska communities to relocate buildings and infrastructure. The communities with projects that have already been funded include Kotlik, Alakanuk, Kwigillingok, Golovin, Tuntutuliak, and Tununak.

What do they have in common? They’re all threatened by erosion and flooding — problems made worse by climate change.

“We are very excited,” said Brett Nelson, a conservation engineer for the USDA.

His team has worked to provide flood and erosion mitigation around rural Alaska for years. He knows the communities and their needs.

Nelson said that this type of federal funding is a big deal because it’s a first. Usually the federal government only funds his department to relocate buildings when there’s an emergency, like when a home or building is about to fall into a river.

But this funding will be preventative so that communities can begin their relocation efforts before it’s too late.

“This was a new thing for up here,” said Nelson.

Nelson said that the entire process will take about five years. It involves multiple stages of planning before they can move into actual construction and relocation. But he said that if any one building in those communities becomes urgently threatened, they can speed up the process for those structures.

The application is still open for villages. Any village with an erosion, flooding, or permafrost issue is eligible to receive funding. Nelson can be reached at 907-761-7717 or Brett.Nelson@usda.gov.

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