By Carey Restino
Gov. Sean Parnell announced last week that he had submitted a $2.5 million capital budget amendment to develop an evacuation and access road for the village of Kivalina, one of several coastal Alaska communities impacted in recent years by coastal erosion and severe storms.
Flooding and storm surge most recently caused extensive damage and concern in the community in 2011 during a November storm that beat the icepack to shore. Many community members evacuated to the community's school as the storm surge threatened to top the town's sea wall. That was just one of three emergency situations created in the past five years, one of which involved residents being evacuated out of the town. Because of its low-lying location on the shores of the Chukchi Sea, the village has long been on the list for an evacuation route.
The most recent proposed plan is for the state to construct a new school on high ground near Kisimigiuktuk Hill, approximately 8 miles from the existing community, according to the Northwest Arctic Borough. The cost of the road to that location is estimated at $5.3 million.
Other routes have been proposed. A 2005 study contracted by the Northwest Arctic Borough found an evacuation road is needed prior to proposed relocation of the community in coming years. That study identified the preferred route beginning in the center of Kivalina and crossing the lagoon using an 0.5-mile earthen causeway and 60-foot long bridge, then continuing across the tundra for 3.6 miles, terminating at the Simiq village relocation site.
Kivalina was identified in a 2009 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study assessing 178 Alaska communities reporting erosion problems, and was designated as one of 26 communities deemed "Priority Action Communities." It was estimated at that time that relocation of the community would range between $95 and $125 million, with the current location likely to stay above water for 10 to 15 years. More recent estimates have been reported to run as high as $400 million.
Parnell said during a March 20 press conference in Juneau that the evacuation route was of upmost importance.
"Kivalina's evacuation route is a matter of life and safety," Governor Parnell said. "The road would help residents escape in times of severe weather and will also allow the village to grow inland, allowing future generations to thrive without the threat of erosion."