Alaska, US

The US Government Accountability Office found that flooding and erosion affect 184 of 213 of Alaska Native villages, with 31 of these imminently threatened, and 12 communities planning to relocate.

Erosion, which is one of the significant hazards faced by Alaskan coastal communities, is not included in the list of major disasters in the Stafford Act.

The Alaska State Legislature created the Alaska Climate Change Impact Mitigation Program (ACCIMP) in 2009 to supplement the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The ACCIMP provides funds for hazard impact assessments to evaluate climate change-related impacts, including gradual biophysical change, such as erosion. The remaining funds are allocated for the planning needs and adaptation strategies to reduce vulnerability to the hazards identified in these assessments. Relocation planning activities can be funded.  Unfortunately, although ACCIMP allows relocation planning, no institutional relocation governance framework exists to implement community relocation in Alaska.

Kivalina (indigenous Inupiat Eskimo community on the tip of a thin, 6-mile-long barrier reef island in the Chukchi Sea, 128 km above the Arctic Circle, relocation planned)

kivalina 2

Kivalina’s efforts to raise additional relocation funds from a climate-change lawsuit against oil, coal, and gas companies have been unsuccessful. The Kivalina Evacuation and School Site Access Road Committee is coordinating the work to determine the viability of constructing a road between the current community location and the new school building site on the new land chosen. The road will provide an evacuation route during extreme weather, and the school may serve as pioneer infrastructure for community relocation. Funding for the road construction may come from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT) and USACE, but the timing of road construction is unclear. The additional steps required to relocate all of Kivalina’s residents, infrastructure, and housing to this location have also not been identified.

Shishmaref  (indigenous Inupiat Eskimo community on Sarichef Island on the northwest coast of Alaska, relocation planned)


After geophysical tests are conducted to determine the site’s suitability, the community will vote for a second time to determine if this site meets their needs. In 2011, the community created the Shishmaref Relocation Work Group to move the relocation effort forward. As in Kivalina, government agencies and the majority of community residents agree that relocation is the only adaptation strategy that will ensure the long-term resilience of the community, but the steps necessary to implement relocation, if the proposed site is approved, are unclear.

Newtok (indigenous Yup’ik Eskimo community along the Ninglick River near the Bering Sea in western Alaska, relocation initiated)

newtok 2

Newtok inhabitants voted three times, most recently in August 2003, to relocate to Nelson Island, 9 miles from Newtok. Newtok obtained title to their preferred relocation site, which they named Mertarvik, through a land-exchange agreement negotiated with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. No infrastructure existed at the relocation site. In 2006, Newtok community residents built three houses at Mertarvik, with funding received by the Newtok Traditional Council. In 2009, construction of pioneer infrastructure, including a multipurpose evacuation center and barge landing, began at the relocation site through the work of the Newtok Planning Group. Construction of the evacuation center was not yet complete as of 2012.

The National Environmental Protection Act requires designation of a federal lead agency, but the Stafford Act and other legislation provide no federal agency with authority to take a lead role in community relocation. These statutory impediments to Newtok’s relocation will affect all Alaskan communities seeking to relocate.


Sources you may like to check:

Climate-induced community relocations in Alaska

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