In 2015 the White House directed the Commission to establish a Village Infrastructure Protection (VIP) Program to assist rural Alaskan communities that are threatened by erosion, flooding and permafrost degradation. The goal of the VIP Program is to mitigate the impact of these threats with respect to safety, health and the protection of infrastructure.
The basis for the program is Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report 09-551 that was published in 2009. The report identified 31 rural Alaska communities that face significant damage to infrastructure, and/or relocation due to these threats. The State of Alaska has also done significant research on this problem through an Immediate Action Workgroup established by Governor Sarah Palin in 2007.
One of the villages imminently threatened is Newtok, where permafrost degradation acting in combination with Ninglick River currents has resulted in a river bank erosion rate of 70 feet per year. Numerous homes, the school and the airport will be destroyed within the next 2 to 4 years. Relocating the community to safer ground is the only alternative.
The Commission has received no new recurring appropriations for the VIP Program. However, in fiscal years 2016 through 2020 the agency invested a total of just under $40 million of its discretionary program funds for VIP related initiatives; primarily in support of the four most vulnerable communities identified in GAO Report 09-551 (Newtok, Kivalina, Shaktoolik, and Shishmaref). Our primary program partners are the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium who is providing overall project management services for the Newtok Relocation Project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and University of Alaska – Fairbanks who developed the Statewide Threat Assessment, and several agencies within the State of Alaska such as the Alaska Energy Authority and the Division of Community and Regional Affairs.
In partnership with ANTHC, the Commission also established the Center for Environmentally Threatened Communities (CETC), which supports rural Alaska communities experiencing infrastructure impacts resulting from flooding, erosion, and melting permafrost. Since 2017, CETC staff have worked with 22 communities to address environmental threats and achieve their vision of a safe, healthy, and sustainable future. Their two areas of focus are:
- Securing funding by working closely with communities so they can replace damaged community infrastructure, move homes and community buildings, develop new subdivisions, gain a better understanding of risk, and advance long-term planning.
- Helping to build community capacity to respond to threats by providing grant training and technical assistance.
Liza Mack, PhD
Village Infrastructure Program Manager
- VIP Program Fact Sheet (March 2019)
- VIP Program Fact Sheet (August 2017)
- GAO Report 04-142
- GAO Report 09-551
- Alaska Baseline Erosion Assessment
- IAWG Recommendations to the Governor’s Subcabinet on Climate Change
- The United States National Climate Assessment – Alaska Technical Regional Report
- A Guide To Community Resilience
- Catalog of Federal Resilience Programs for Alaskan Communities
- Final Environmental Impact Statement – Mertarvik Infrastructure Development
- Statewide Threat Assessment
- A Phased Approach to Village Relocation: Guidance for incremental, community-driven village relocation
- Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development (DCRA)
- Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DHS&EM)
- Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DGGS)
- Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy
- US Department of Commerce – NOAA Office For Coastal Management
- US Department of Homeland Security – Federal Emergency Management Agency
- US Department of Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Resilience Program
- US Department of Interior – Fish & Wildlife Service Landscape Conservation Cooperatives
- US Arctic Research Commission
Relocation of Newtok to Mertarvik
The Commission is working with numerous local, state and other federal agencies in a combined effort to relocate the village of Newtok to a new site called Mertarvik. To date, the Commission has provided more than $27 million for the project. For more information on the relocation of Newtok to Mertarvik please see the Final Environmental Impact Statement referenced above, the Mertarvik Project Fact Sheet, and the Newtok Planning Group website.