NEWTOK, Alaska (KTUU) - Earlier this week, a dozen federal agencies released research saying that Alaska is warming twice as fast as the global average, and perhaps there's no community that that better understands the reality of climate change, than the Yup'ik village of Newtok.
"Tip of the spear," said Andrew John, Newtok Tribal Administrator. "We definitely are the tip of the spear. I don't know if it's climate change or not, but I do know the river is eroding and we have to move, because if we don't move, we're going to lose homes."
As a result of erosion, thawing permafrost and flooding, the small the community voted back in 1996 to relocate the village, but only recently did that effort start to gain traction.
On Thursday, several state and federal agencies gathered in Newtok for a celebration. There was singing, dancing and a trip, 9-miles across the Ninglick River, to the villages new town site of Mertarvik. The purpose of the trip was to update the community about the progress being made in the effort to relocate, and hold a ribbon cutting, marking the beginning of construction on a new road that will connect the town site to a gravel pit, which will be used to lay the foundation of the village.
"There is running water now at Mertarvik," said Romy Cadiente, Tribal Relocation coordinator for the Village of Newtok. "We're in the process of building four homes right now. We're also in the process of building roads and everything at Mertavik."
Construction on the new homes and roads began in May. It's phase of the construction plan that Cadiente hopes to have completed within the next 3-5 years, at a cost of roughly $300 million to completely relocate the entire village of Newtok.