Leadership Lacking As Coastal Erosion Spurs Community Relocation

<p>Global warming is exacerbating the erosion of the Alaskan coastline, but no agency has taken the lead in addressing the issues of land depletion and community relocation. One village's struggles may set the rule for future relocations.</p>
September 19, 2007, 8am PDT | Nate Berg
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"One of Alaska's most eroded coastal villages has begun to build a new community on higher ground -- a colossal undertaking being closely watched as more storm-battered settlements face their own forced relocations."

"'We're working slow but we're making progress,' said Stanley Tom, administrator of Newtok, a Yup'ik Eskimo community of 315 wedged between two rivers prone to severe flooding in recent years. The village completed a federal land trade in 2004 for the new site, a hilly area called Mertarvik on Nelson Island nine miles to the south, where residents are putting the final touches on three new homes."

"Officials say the effort is hampered by a glaring flaw: No single agency has been designated to lead erosion relocation projects involving Newtok or, possibly in the future, other Alaska villages wracked by the effects of climate change."

"Crucially needed is a formal strategy that coordinates the roles a slew of agencies and tribal organizations will play, said Greg Magee, manager of the state's Village Safe Water program, which assists rural communities with development of water and sewer systems. Magee's office is spending $120,000 this year to explore the best water sources for Mertarvik, which in Yup'ik means 'getting water from the spring.'"

"'We've got to come up with a plan that can't fail, that other villages can follow after Newtok,' he said. 'We need to find a plan that knocks the socks off everyone.'"

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Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 in Anchorage Daily News
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