Relocating the Village of Kivalina, Alaska Due to Coastal ErosionBy:
December 18, 2010
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Project Summary / Overview
Residents in Kivalina, Alaska have pursued relocation efforts for almost 20 years because of overcrowding and erosion problems. The village identified a preferred relocation site about eight miles away in Kiniktuuraq; this site was deemed unsuitable by the Army Corps of Engineers who found that flooding and erosion at the new site would cause additional problems. The relocation process is in a stalemate as the village seeks technical assistance and funding to support their efforts. In the meantime, severe coastal storms, thawing permafrost, and shoreline erosion continue to threaten both life and property in the area.
Kivalina is located at the tip of an eight-mile barrier reef about 80 miles above the Arctic Circle. It is a traditional Inupiat Eskimo village in which subsistence activities provide the majority of food supply (e.g., seal, walrus, whale, salmon, and caribou). Ninety-eight percent of the population is the Inupiaq people of Kivalina, also known as Kivallinigmiut. As of 2006, Kivalina had 402 residents living in approximately 70 homes.
Relocation has been a long-term issue in Kivalina. In 1953, overcrowding and erosion motivated a public vote for relocation but it was turned down with a 50/50 vote; a similar vote and result occurred in 1963. Since 1953, when the village covered approximately 54 acres, erosion activity shrank the area to less than 27 acres, making relocation more necessary. Finally in 1992, residents voted to begin the process of relocating because of the ongoing hazards and occurrences experienced in the area, including storm surges, sea ice encroachment on land, erosion, landslides, and earlier and shorter hunting seasons.
Various sites have been selected and evaluated for suitability. The village prefers to move to Kiniktuuraq, a village about 7.5 miles away from Kivalina, but the relocation process has been interrupted by various problems.
The Kivalina Relocation Master Plan was released in 2006 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE). The report examines a few alternatives for the village including: Do Nothing, Improve Existing Site, and Move to a New Site (e.g., Imnakuk Bluffs, Simiq, Tatchim Isua, Kiniktuuraq, Igrugaivik, or Kuugruaq). The report concludes that Alternative 1 (Do Nothing) is not suitable because Kivalina will soon be overrun by flooding and erosion issues. Alternative 2 (Improve Existing Site) is also not suitable because of existing environmental and socioeconomic issues (e.g., erosion, overcrowding, poverty). Relocation was determined to be the preferred alternative and was supported by the ACE’s 2006 erosion study (Alaska Village Erosion Technical Assistance Program). This assessment determined that the estimated cost of moving Kivalina is $95-125 million and that the village has 10-15 years before existing locations are overcome by erosion and flooding problems.
Despite relocation being determined as the best option and of the upmost urgency, many of the sites examined in the Kivalina Relocation Master Plan as potential relocation options were declared not suitable because of cost, susceptibility to erosion and flooding, and/or social and cultural objections. The village’s preferred relocation site, Kiniktuuraq, was deemed to be “geotechnically inappropriate and strategically problematic” by the ACE because of ongoing erosion and flooding potential. The ACE instead suggested Tatchim Isau and Imnaaquq Bluffs as alternatives.
Project Outcomes and Conclusions
The ACE determined that the village-preferred site, Kiniktuuraq, was unsuitable and prone to flooding and erosion in the 2006 Relocation Master Plan. The alternate site proposed by the ACE is unacceptable to the village because it would be more expensive and inconvenient to continue with their subsistence activities and cultural lifestyle. Kivalina has asked that a third party step in to reassess the alternatives in the Relocation Master Plan; the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet’s Immediate Action Workgroup has proposed that a state agency be the lead in this process (GAO 2009).
Kivalina continues to apply for state and federal funding and support to build capacity and technical assistance to facilitate the relocation process. The village faces a number of problems including choosing the best site, locating funding, and dealing with internal social issues such as overcrowding and poverty. Meanwhile, increased coastal storms, thawing permafrost, and shoreline erosion continue to threaten both life and property on the island.