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.
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.
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.