Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak awarded relocation grants

Funding from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act Supports Community-Driven Relocation for Threatened Communities.

The Biden-Harris administration today (Nov. 30th, 2022) announced the launch of a new Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation program, led by the Department of the Interior, to assist Tribal communities severely impacted by climate-related environmental threats.

Through investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the Department is committing $115 million for 11 severely impacted Tribes to advance relocation efforts and adaptation planning. Additional support for relocation will be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the Denali Commission.

The announcement was made during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, which provides an opportunity for the Administration and Tribal leaders from the 574 federally recognized Tribes to discuss ways the federal government can invest in and strengthen nation-to-nation relationships as well as ensure that progress in Indian Country endures for years to come.

The Newtok Village, located on the Ninglick River in Alaska, is experiencing progressive coastal erosion from ocean storms and degrading permafrost. Multiple erosion studies conclude that there is no cost-effective way to halt this process, and that the people of Newtok must relocate to a new site. At the current rate of erosion of approximately 70 feet per year, the river is expected to threaten structures within two years and the village’s critical infrastructure within four years. Mertarvik is the site of the new village, located approximately nine miles across the Ninglick River from Newtok. The new village site has roads but only a handful of homes.

The Native Village of Napakiak, located on the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, is experiencing serious erosion that is threatening the school, fuel farm, water supply well, airport, homes and other critical infrastructure. Severe weather, storm surges and flooding are also major concerns. The ongoing erosion is estimated to be 25-50 feet per year. Most of the current critical infrastructure is expected to be destroyed by 2030. The village has comprehensive plans for managed retreat and relocation, but implementation has been delayed by lack of funding.

The Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak, both in Alaska, as well as the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington have been selected to receive $25 million each to begin community driven relocation, for a total of $75 million in funding. The initial steps for these communities will serve as demonstration projects for future climate resilience efforts by providing early learning opportunities for best practices, developing standard guidelines and tools to serve as a blueprint for future efforts, and demonstrating the success of a consolidated and coordinated interagency approach to relocation and managed retreat. The demonstration projects will focus on the relocation and establishment of core infrastructure identified by the communities to create a center of gravity for full community relocation. Community relocation will be a staged process that will occur in the coming years.

In addition to the Interior Department’s dedicated funds, FEMA has awarded, or is in the process of awarding, approximately $17.7 million to assist the three communities in their efforts to acquire, demolish and build new infrastructure out of harm’s way.

Alaska Native villages are at risk of severe infrastructure damage due to climate-related environmental impacts, including sea-level rise, coastal erosion and extreme weather events. Tribal communities in the contiguous 48 states are at risk of similar threats plus threats from flooding, drought and wildland fire. A 2020 BIA study estimated that up to $5 billion will be needed over the next 50 years to address Tribal relocation infrastructure needs in response to climate change impacts.

In December, the federal government will begin a community-driven 120-day planning period that will include the Interior Department and partnering federal agencies traveling to the three communities to establish formal relationships and begin the planning process with discussions on:

the communities’ goals and needs; the roles and responsibilities of the communities and Federal agencies; the project scope and components; timelines, funding, and budget; and risk identification and management.

Three Tribal relocation coordinators funded by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Branch of Tribal Climate Resilience (TCR) annual grants will manage implementation at each community, oversee a local support team, and serve as the main points of contact. TCR will provide financial and technical assistance to support Tribal strategies and provide coordination to match the communities to federal financial and technical assistance.