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Federal officials get firsthand look at Kuskokwim River erosion during visit to NapakiakBy Evan Erickson, KYUK - Bethel -August 29, 2023

By Evan Erickson, KYUK - Bethel -August 29, 2023

Find full article at Alaska Public Media

The school in Napakiak, a Yup’ik village in Southwest Alaska, sits a mere 78 feet from the rapidly eroding shoreline of the Kuskokwim River in July 2021. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Federal officials met with tribal leaders in the Southwest Alaska communities of Napakiak and Napaskiak last week as part of a tour of the state promoting infrastructure funding.

In Napakiak, the focus was on the efforts to relocate the village and the $25 million the village received last year under the Biden administration’s infrastructure law.

White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu and Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau were part of the visit, said Walter Nelson, the managed retreat coordinator for Napakiak.

“We had the high-ranking officials from Washington, D.C., to make a site visit and see how we live and how we do things in rural Alaska,” Nelson said.

But Nelson also said that the federal grant is only a fraction of what is needed to move the village. The full cost of relocation is estimated to exceed $200 million, according to an inter-agency managed retreat plan.

Nelson said that the erosion has been accelerating, and that the village’s water treatment plant is just 53 feet from the Kuskokwim River.

“There’s a lot of buildings that we can’t move, and then the only thing we have to do is rebuild new ones,” Nelson said. “We moved two families from the erosion and we’re looking at moving two more before winter, and we’re crossing our hearts that everything will move smoothly.”

Napakiak will need to demolish or move dozens of homes and public buildings lying in the path of the erosion, according to the managed retreat plan. It will also need to construct a new well and water treatment plant.

In addition to the federal funding, the village has already received nearly $60 million from the state to demolish a section of its school and build a brand new school a safe distance away from the Kuskokwim River.

Erosion wasn’t the only item on the agenda for the Aug. 23 visit. The officials also highlighted $42 million in funding for a fiber-optic network connecting Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak and Oscarville.

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