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Rural Alaska

Rapid erosion pushes Akiak to seek funds for moving homes

Erosion in Akiak swallowed 75 to 100 feet of Kuskokwim River banks along the village on May 20, 2019. (Ivan Ivan / City of Akiak via KYUK News)

AKIAK - A Western Alaska village with a rapidly eroding riverbank is seeking funding to relocate homes, officials said.

Money is available, but Akiak officials will have to go through a complicated bureaucratic process to obtain funding to save buildings in danger of falling into the Kuskokwim River, KYUK-AM reported.

Akiak, a community of about 350 people on the river’s west bank northeast of Bethel, lost a one-mile stretch of riverbank to erosion in May, with parts of the river moving 75 feet closer to the community and putting one house within 15 feet of the river.

Moving houses and connecting them to services like water, sewer, and roads will cost millions of dollars, said City Administrator David Gilila.

“I can’t fathom even to estimate the dollar figure,” Gilila said.

Federal agriculture and housing and urban development grants are available, said Joel Neimeyer, a consultant working with Akiak. "After the Anchorage/Mat-Su Valley earthquake in November of last year, Alaska is eligible for a lot of disaster funding," Neimeyer said.

Alaska's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is working with the village on possible relocation funding.

The process is complicated. Akiak must obtain a contractor and conduct a planning process, submit reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and compete with other communities.

"If they don't have an approved hazard mitigation process by October 31, they cannot compete," Neimeyer said.

Neimeyer estimated a seawall could cost $80 million. For now, Gilila said the community is stabilizing the riverbank with metal poles and burlap tarps.

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