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Rural Alaska

Quinhagak considers relocation as climate change accelerates erosion

The Southwestern Alaska village of Quinhagak is seen from the air on Sept. 14, 2016. (Lisa Demer / ADN archive)

QUINHAGAK - Accelerating erosion is forcing villages in Western Alaska to begin making plans to move, officials say.

Erosion caused by climate change threatens village infrastructure and could force the relocation of communities such as Quinhagak, Alaska’s Energy Desk reports.

A 2012 state report listed Quinhagak's sewer lagoon and multipurpose building as top priorities for replacement or repair because of erosion and thawing permafrost.

Erosion now threatens Quinhagak's airstrip, water treatment plant and water and sewer system, officials said.

Quinhagak's sewer lagoon and the building holding the laundromat and health clinic have experienced the worst impacts, creating a public health problem, said tribal administrator Ferdinand Cleveland.

Blue jeans hang on the line July 22, 2016, at a home in the Alaska village of Quinhagak. (Lisa Demer / ADN archive)

The village installed thermosiphons, systems designed to keep the ground from thawing, but they are not working because the ground is warming too fast, Ferdinand said.

"See the outside part of the building; the concrete is sinking, and the drywall is cracking," he said.

He does not know how they would close up the lagoon if erosion causes waste to leak into the Kuskokwim Bay, an important food source.

Quinhagak has applied for a Bureau of Indian Affairs grant to help with moving and rebuilding the lagoon, which could cost $6 million. A new health clinic could cost $2.5 million.

Newtok, another coastal community north of Quinhagak, is preparing for a move that could cost more than $100 million.

The time to look toward Quinhagak's relocation has arrived, officials said.

“I think it’s time to start preparing,” said Warren Jones, president of the village corporation, Qanirtuuq Inc. “It’s coming, there’s no way about it.”

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