A presenter at the gathering of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission in Nome this week unveiled a key detail about an initiative President Barack Obama is expected to announce during his visit to the state next week involving relocation efforts for rural villages in the face of climate change.
"So next week when the president is here," said Lorraine Cordova, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Alaska Deep Draft Arctic Port Study, "he's going to announce that the Denali Commission is going to be the lead agency to look at the environmentally threatened communities in Alaska."
The Denali Commission is an independent federal agency that has provided infrastructure and economic support throughout Alaska since 1998.
The project will focus on 31 communities throughout the state, from Barrow on the North Slope down to Port Heiden on the Bering Sea and east to Eyak. Over a span of three years, the Denali Commission's efforts will help determine whether each community should, according to Cordova, "protect in place" or relocate due to the effects of climate change.
"It's a difficult community question to answer," Cordova said, positing, "Do we move or do we stay? What parts do we move? What moves first, I mean, it's not as easy as one might suggest."
In a public teleconference organized by the Denali Commission this morning, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot said the White House intends to put Sen. Lisa Murkowski at the reigns of the project.
Denali Commissioner and President of the Alaska Federation of Natives Julie Kitka chimed in with her approval about the historic announcement. "I think that this is unprecedented to have the President of the United States mention the Denali Commission and be willing to engage and have his administration step up the effort to meet community needs."
Kitka added the expected announcement will be "pretty darn historical."
President Obama is expected to unveil more details about the Denali Commission's role in the project during his visit to Kotzebue on Wednesday.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing