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Alaska Climate Change Impact Mitigation Program

Community Planning Grants: Shishmaref

Shishmaref focused its Community Planning Grant on a Relocation Site Selection Feasibility Study which will enable the community to identify a safe, stable and sustainable new village site.

Shishmaref Relocation Site Selection Feasibility Study Documents Shishmaref Reports and Studies

Shishmaref

Background

Shishmaref is located on Sarichef Island, in the Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait. Shishmaref is 5 miles from the mainland, 126 miles north of Nome, and 100 miles southwest of Kotzebue.

The community is being affected by high rates of erosion along the shoreline. Climatic conditions have led to icepack development occurring later and later each year. Without the icepack in place, the island is more susceptible to fall and early winter storms that have increased erosion and littoral drift. Erosion and littoral drift are shifting the island footprint northeastward and southwestward, subjecting the developed areas to massive wave scour and erosion of the fine materials that make up the island. Erosion has undermined buildings and infrastructure, causing several structures to collapse and fall into the sea.

The community has experienced a number of severe coastal storms over the past 20 years that eroded the island to such an extent that the viability of the community is at risk. In October 1997, a severe storm eroded over 30 feet of the north shore, requiring 14 homes and the National Guard Armory to be relocated. Five additional homes were relocated in 2002. Other storms have continued to erode the shoreline an average of three to five feet per year on the north shore.

There have been several efforts to protect Shishmaref's coastline over the past 10 years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) built a 230-foot rock revetment that protects a portion of the coastline near the school. The City of Shishmaref used State Legislative grant funding to build a lower, longer revetment which extends beyond the USACE revetment. The regional Native non-profit organization, Kawerak, Inc. funded a 200-foot rip rap seawall along the west end of the community using Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Transportation Program funds. The combined cost of these coastal revetment projects was in excess of $27 million with a life expectancy of 15 years, intended to provide short-term protection to the community. The USACE has noted that even the protected portions of shoreline may be subject to continued erosion forces due to overtopping or scour of undersized armor rock; and that its revetment project will eventually be undermined by weather forces, leaving the community in jeopardy.

The community voted to relocate in May 1973 and again in July 2002. While the community has pursued relocation since then, several events have caused the relocation efforts to lose momentum ( NRCS 2003 ). The relocation site proposed in the 1970s was determined to be on permafrost-rich ground and unsuitable for development. A school built in 1977 was an important infrastructure investment in the community that the community did not want to abandon.

Shishmaref Relocation Site Selection Feasibility Study

The purpose of the Shishmaref Relocation Site Selection Feasibility Study is to:

  • Develop physical and socio-economic criteria for site selection, identify at least three alternative sites which meet the established criteria
  • Assess alternative sites from the perspective of cultural and socio-economic needs of the community, alternative energy, cost, development potential and long term sustainability of the site

The results of the study are intended to provide the Shishmaref community with the information they need to make a sound decision about the community's future and whether to relocate or to protect-in-place.

The study was completed in February 2016. Based on the results of the study, the community plans to hold a special election on August 16, 2016 to decide whether to remain at the current village site and "protect -in-place" or to relocate to a new location nearby.

Shishmaref Erosion

Coastal Storm in Shishmaref: Tony Weyiouanna

For more information contact

Sally Russell Cox
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development
550 West 7th Avenue, Suite 1650,
Anchorage, AK 99501-3569
Phone (907) 269-4588
Fax (907)269-4066
Email: sally.cox@alaska.gov