Newtok calls on Obama for relocation funds

ANCHORAGE — A western Alaska village is asking President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration to help residents escape ongoing erosion and thawing permafrost brought on by warmer temperatures.

The town of Newtok has submitted its request for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal money is typically designated for disasters such as hurricanes and landslides rather than the slow-moving danger of erosion.

The village of a few hundred people has six homes at immediate risk of coastal erosion, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.

An effort has been underway to relocate residents to another site upriver, where several homes have already been built. But relocation coordinator Romy Cadiente said the village can’t afford to make the move.

“The price tag on this village move is astronomical,” Cadiente said. “We’re thinking probably in the $150 to $300 million range. And what we have right now is nowhere near.”

Engineers predict several Newtok homes will be lost by fall followed by the village school in 2018. The village also expects to lose its current drinking water source and airport by 2020.

“We just need to get out of there,” Cadiente said. “We really do. For the safety of the 450 people there. We need to get out of there.”

Newtok is hoping to receive an answer from the Obama administration before the president leaves office Jan. 20.

Newtok’s attorney, Mike Walleri, said federal law shouldn’t prevent the president from declaring a disaster for the environmental damage, which has come in various stages over the last decade.

“You know, disasters are not planned, and they don’t come in one size fits all,” Walleri said. “And FEMA over its life has, I think, understood that. And it’s tried to adapt to the changing circumstances of these disasters.”

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