Napakiak, Newtok receive $25 million each from Department of Interior to help move away from water

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Some $25 million of federal dollars will go to the villages of Napakiak and Newtok to help them move to higher ground, according to the Department of the Interior and the White House, which made the announcement at a tribal conference today.

It’s part of a $135 million effort to assist tribal communities across the country that are severely impacted by climate-related environmental threats.

Newtok and Napakiak have been in the process of moving for a few years. About 140 people now live across the river from the Newtok village site to Metarvik, which is on a higher bluff.

Read about the progress moving the village at this Alaska Department of Commerce report.

Read about the site visit to Napakiak in 2018 by the Department of Agriculture, and the assessment of needs.

“Through investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the Department is committing $115 million for 11 severely impacted Tribes to advance relocation efforts and adaptation planning. Additional support for relocation will be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the Denali Commission,” the Biden administration announced, for a total of $135 million.

The administration said it recognizes climate change as a real and immediate threat, and “this program is one of the first designed to coordinate closely with community leaders to help begin the process of relocating crucial community infrastructure away from imminent threats and build long-term resilience to climate impacts. These projects will yield critical information to inform replication in other communities and initiate a long-term strategy for future relocation and climate resilience efforts.”

“As part of the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibility to protect Tribal sovereignty and revitalize tribal communities, we must safeguard Indian Country from the intensifying and unique impacts of climate change,” said  Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Helping these communities move to safety on their homelands is one of the most important climate related investments we could make in Indian Country.”

“From wildfires out west to typhoons in Alaska, I have seen firsthand the devastating affect climate change and extreme weather has on communities across the nation, especially in Indian Country. That is why FEMA and the entire Biden-Harris administration take seriously our responsibility to provide tailored assistance to Tribal Nations before, during and after disasters,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “While FEMA continues to help Tribal Nations plan for future conditions and strengthen tribal community resilience through our suite of hazard mitigation tools and resources, we are excited to partner with our federal family on larger projects such community-driven relocation to further support all Tribal Nations.”

“The Denali Commission (Commission) commends the Biden-Harris administration in recognizing the climate adaptation needs of Alaska Native Villages with the significant announcement of the demonstration project,” said Garrett Boyle, Federal Co-Chair of the Commission. “The Commission commits its support for this effort and the participating Alaska Native Villages. This effort comes at a pivotal moment of need for the Villages and the environment and builds on the Commission’s previous investments of nearly $50 million for strategic climate adaptation and resilience efforts.”

The announcement was made during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, which is where the Administration and Tribal leaders from the 574 federally recognized Tribes to discuss ways the federal government can invest in and strengthen nation-to-nation relationships as well as ensure that progress in Indian Country endures for years to come. That conference concludes on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Alaska Native villages are at risk of severe infrastructure damage due to climate-related environmental impacts, including sea-level rise, coastal erosion and extreme weather events, the administration said. Tribal communities in the contiguous 48 states are at risk of similar threats plus threats from flooding, drought and wildland fire. A 2020 BIA study estimated that up to $5 billion will be needed over the next 50 years to address tribal relocation infrastructure needs in response to climate change impacts.

The investments will support two types of grants: relocation grants for severely impacted communities currently ready to implement relocation and managed retreat plans, and planning grants for communities that need additional planning support in evaluating climate threats and mitigation strategies.

Relocation Grants

The Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak, both in Alaska, as well as the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington were selected to receive $25 million each to begin community driven relocation, for a total of $75 million in funding.

As mentioned earlier in this story, the process is well underway in both Newtok and Napakiak, although that is not included in the White House narrative. The photo above shows the new homes built at Metarvik, across the river from Newtok.

“The initial steps for these communities will serve as demonstration projects for future climate resilience efforts by providing early learning opportunities for best practices, developing standard guidelines and tools to serve as a blueprint for future efforts, and demonstrating the success of a consolidated and coordinated interagency approach to relocation and managed retreat,” the White House said.

The demonstration projects will focus on the relocation and establishment of core infrastructure identified by the communities to create a center of gravity for full community relocation. Community relocation will be a staged process that will occur in the coming years, the administration said, again ignoring the work that has been underway for years.

In addition to the Interior Department’s dedicated funds, FEMA has awarded, or is in the process of awarding, approximately $17.7 million to assist the three communities in their efforts to acquire, demolish and build new infrastructure out of harm’s way.

The Newtok Village, located on the Ninglick River in Alaska, is experiencing progressive coastal erosion from ocean storms and degrading permafrost. Multiple erosion studies conclude that there is no cost-effective way to halt this process, and that the people of Newtok must relocate to a new site, the White House said in its statement. At the current rate of erosion of approximately 70 feet per year, the river is expected to threaten structures within two years and the village’s critical infrastructure within four years. Mertarvik is the site of the new village, located approximately nine miles across the Ninglick River from Newtok. The new village site has roads but only a handful of homes, the White House said.

In reality, about 200 people live in the Newtok village, and 140 of them have moved across the river already. Much work remains to be done, but what has been accomplished is significant, including the construction of a school on the Metarvik side.

The Native Village of Napakiak, located on the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, is experiencing serious erosion that is threatening the school, fuel farm, water supply well, airport, homes and other critical infrastructure. Severe weather, storm surges and flooding are also major concerns. The ongoing erosion is estimated to be 25-50 feet per year. Most of the current critical infrastructure is expected to be destroyed by 2030. The village has comprehensive plans for managed retreat and relocation, but implementation has been delayed by lack of funding, the White House said.

The village does need more funding but has been moving buildings back away from the eroded bank over the past few summers.

Both villages have limited seasons to do construction, due to the cold climate.

The Quinault Indian Nation, located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, seeks to relocate its Taholah Village. Taholah lies at the confluence of the Quinault River and Pacific Ocean, and is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surges, and river flooding. The village also faces tsunami hazards from the more frequent distant earthquakes on the Pacific rim and the more destructive local tsunamis caused by earthquakes near the western coast of the United States. The tribe identified an area at higher elevation for relocation. Efforts have been made to begin the relocation process, but the lack of funding has made relocation a piecemeal process.

In December, the federal government will begin a community-driven 120-day planning period that will include the Interior Department and partnering federal agencies traveling to the three communities to establish formal relationships and begin the planning process with discussions on:

  • the communities’ goals and needs;
  • the roles and responsibilities of the communities and Federal agencies;
  • the project scope and components;
  • timelines, funding, and budget; and
  • risk identification and management.

Planning Grants

Eight additional communities that need further planning support to reach decisions and prepare for relocation or increased climate resilience measures will receive $5 million, for a total of $40 million. These communities face significant and widely varied climate risks, including coastal and riverine erosion, permafrost degradation, wildfire, flooding, food insecurity, sea level rise, hurricane impacts, potential levee failure and drought.

Planning grants of $5 million each are being awarded to:

  • Native Village of Point Lay (Alaska);
  • Huslia Village (Alaska);
  • Native Village of Fort Yukon (Alaska);
  • Native Village of Nelson Lagoon (Alaska);
  • Havasupai Tribe (Arizona);
  • Yurok Tribe (California);
  • Chitimacha Tribe (Louisiana); and
  • Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe (Maine).

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a total of $466 million in taxpayer funds to the BIA over five years, including $216 million for climate resilience programs, provided as $43.2 million annually for five years. Of that funding, $130 million is provided for community relocation and $86 million is provided for Tribal climate resilience and adaptation projects.

The Inflation Reduction Act provides BIA with an additional $220 million for climate adaptation and resilience, of which the Department anticipates spending $40 million to support Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation efforts, with the remainder supporting broader Tribal climate resilience activities.

Today’s announcement is in addition to $45 million in Tribal Climate Resilience awards made by BIA earlier this month.

For more information on projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in Tribal communities through the BIA, visit the BIA’s interactive map.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I’m so old that I remember when ‘climate change’ was just ‘the weather’!
    This is Alaska, live where you want. Enjoy! But if the river changes course, the beach erodes, etc, then move! And don’t expect the rest of us to pay cash for it. If the river makes a sudden change and threatens my house here in the valley, I’m expected to pay for that move either directly or through insurance. I don’t expect to have it paid for through tax money taken from every one else. I’m responsible for my property, why isn’t everyone else responsible for theirs?

  2. So if you choose to build a house in a flood zone, the government will pay for you to move? Sweet! Where do Matanuska River residents sign up?

    • Of course. The government helps to rebuild houses all the time in the Mississippi floodplain or in Florida after a hurricane. If that’s not a ludicrous waste of money than neither is this.

  3. Just move them all into Hotel Captain Cook. Give them free room service and a $100 a day for spending money.

    It’s more honest than whatever this is.

    Climate change, global warming, the next ice age, it will be called something new next year but will stay the same old con.

  4. It wasn’t that long ago that I was hired to install the runway lighting for napakiak’s airport.
    All along the Kuskokwim river villages were getting work done that today is under water!
    Government getting good results for its (our )dollars! What a joke!!

  5. All the naysayers on here had better get used to this. Over 90% of the blue votes in this country live on or near the coastline. Where do you think the money is going to go when those people flood out and New York City or Miami Beach or Los Angeles? Yes it’s just weather, it’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Once the sea level was 100 ft lower than it is now too but the water came up and people moved to higher ground. Native folks can’t afford to move themselves, so it falls on the government to help out. That’s what the government is there for, to help out it’s needy citizens. I know a lot of you folks don’t want the natives to get any pain because they’ve been getting something for most of their lives. But I would like for you to ask yourself why is that? The government bears the responsibility here and that’s all they’re doing like it or lump it.

    • I guess I missed the part where the Federal and State governments required folks to live in flood plains and tidal areas. Can you provide a citation? Is that still an ongoing program?

    • Oh for gosh sake, Forkner, you’re terribly confused once again.

      Y’know I really shouldn’t have to tell you this but handing out piles of money forcibly taken from one party to give it to another party isn’t “what the government is there for” at all.

      Historically, people pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps to improve their lives with the assistance of charities and insurance companies when needed. Recipients of charity were consequently expected by donors to humbly and earnestly try to better themselves rather than to keep having more kids they can’t or won’t adequately provide for and begging for more handouts.

      Rewarding serial mooching like this only begets more of the same in much the same way that garbage bears avoidably become nuisances. Do you find these concepts difficult to grasp, Forkner?

      And I won’t single out natives specifically but since you’ve brought it up, why would I want to hand over any money at all to “blue” voters who consistently vote against my interests?

  6. Any chance the Feds can give $25 million to my subdivision here in Anchorage for “needed improvements” to combat climate change? Everyone could buy a new Tesla or maybe we could build a three megawatt solar farm…. Or multi-gigabit Internet for everyone? We really need the assistance. Really.

  7. After the Native Claims Settlement Act, they should have been building houses on bluffs.
    They can keep the other houses as ‘harvest houses’ place to process and store harvests.
    Seems to me, they are long overdue for construction. Natives can sue about that.
    Not get paid to live in misery. Forever.

  8. If the population of these villages are around 350 people each, then the cost of this is a staggering $70,000.00 per person.

    What are the residents contributing?

    • Probably nothing. They don’t have a huge savings account I would guess. The house is that some people live in are HUD houses. That’s probably the cost per person to actually build the house in rural Alaska. You’re not one of these people that are against other people getting something that you’re not are you?

      • What a strikingly foolish remark.

        Everyone is against public resources being gifted to irresponsible recipients. Only you and everyone’s favorite sot G Galeutian would see this differently.

  9. Thoughts to ponder: Historically humans have always been subjected to forced migrations due to nature and its constant changes like: glaciers advancing, glaciers receding, seasonal river flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, etc – and not to miss this one: tribal conflicts.
    Recall how our continent became human inhabited in the first place prior to the land bridge submergence.
    I think, with admiration, about the strength of tribal migrations when individuals used their own abilities, experience and genius to make the best decisions based upon survival.
    Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. The general principle of alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency has a long history.

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