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Newtok Planning Group

Community Layout Planning

In anticipation of the move to Mertarvik, the Newtok community recognized the need for a Community Layout Plan (CLP) that would provide details on the physical layout of the new village in order to guide the efficient and orderly development at Mertarvik.

The CLP evolved over the years as new information about Mertarvik became available, and decisions based on this information were made by the people of Newtok and members of the Newtok Planning Group. From 2006-2015, each version of the CLP built upon the prior version and was coordinated through the Newtok community and the Newtok Planning Group. In May 2017, the Newtok Village Council approved a final community layout plan that will guide future development at Mertarvik. More information on this final layout is provided below.

Graphic rendition of 2017 community layout.

Mertarvik Community Layout Plan Documents

The History of Community Layout Planning at Mertarvik

2004 CLP

The process of planning for the physical layout of the new community at Mertarvik began while Newtok was still negotiating a land exchange with the federal government. In 2000, with funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Newtok hired ASCG Incorporated to develop a site layout and transportation plan which was finalized a year after the land exchange was completed, in 2004. This layout was developed without detailed information on the Mertarvik site, such as topography and wetland vegetation, but it was an important part of a report to provide background documentation to government agencies and officials in order to justify Newtok's land exchange with the federal government and efforts to relocate to Nelson Island, and to support requests for government assistance in this process.

ASCG 2004 Community Layout
2004 ASCG layout. Click the image to open a full-sized version.

2006 CLP

In 2006, after the formation of the Newtok Planning Group, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Village Safe Water Program (VSW) initiated a CLP process using new data that had been acquired since the ASCG effort: orthography with contour lines; a wetlands delineation report and related GIS layer, and new information on the potential airport layout.

Members of the Newtok community had recently been introduced to the work of the architect, Douglas Cardinal, who designed a new Cree community in Quebec, Oujé-Bougoumou, and they liked the concept of designing a community based on the world view and rituals of the people who will be living there. Several meetings took place between members of the Newtok Planning Group, including the Newtok community, to develop the design alternatives. Community members favored the concept of centrally-located community buildings with housing surrounding this core community area.

Two alternatives for this layout were prepared for Newtok, both at a much higher elevation than the 2004 layout to take advantage of gravity-fed water-sewer systems and to move the community safely away from any potential hazards along the coast:

  • Option 1, which included a central area where community facilities were located with housing following uphill contours to the southeast and southwest of the village center. One version of Option 1 ( Figure 2) arranged housing lots in a more traditional grid design, while another version ( Figures 1 and 3) arranged lots off cul-de-sacs allowing for grouped utilities.
  • Option 2, a variation of the 2004 design prepared by ASCG, which utilized a more conventional grid layout ( Figures 4, 5 and 6).

2006 VSW Alternatives
Option 1, Figure 2 (left) and Figure 3 (center). Option 2, Figure, 5 (right).

Newtok tribal and community members selected Option 1 with the cul-de-sac lot design. This layout informed the location of the first water well drilled at Mertarvik and focused on providing cost-effective water and sanitary sewer systems. An additional version of this CLP, Figure 7 , showed a "pioneer" version of the layout, which would first be focused around pioneer infrastructure at Mertarvik, including an evacuation center at the center of the new village. This building would later become a community center, centrally located in the established community. Key considerations were:

  • Terrain: taking advantage of areas that are naturally flat, which are less costly and difficult to build on
  • Gravity: using gravity to minimize force mains and lift stations, which would be costly to operate and maintain
  • Less grid-like design: incorporating both single-family and multiple-family housing with community buildings (tribal offices, community center, clinic, etc.) arranged in a circular fashion in the center of the community
  • Compact development: avoiding sprawl; laying out homes and infrastructure to take advantage of shared uses and more cost-effective systems

VSW Layout Figure 1

VSW Layout Figure 3

2006 VSW layout focusing on cost-effective water/sewer systems. Click each image to open a full-sized version.

2008 CLP

In 2008, Newtok applied for funding through DCRA’s Mini-Grant Program and was awarded a grant to further develop the VSW layout. The community hired HDR Alaska to develop the new version of the CLP. During this time, work began on the design and construction of a barge landing facility at Mertarvik. The decision was made to move the proposed barge landing from the point northeast of the future village to a cove approximately 4,400 feet to the northwest where the beach was less hazardous to vessels; potential dredging would be less complicated; and the slope of a staging area would be more gradual. The 2008 CLP reflected this change.

The planning process for the 2008 CLP began with interviews with members of the Newtok Planning Group to identify agency requirements. This was followed by an initial community planning workshop to identify the community’s goals and objectives. Based on this input, a draft CLP with three alternatives was developed and presented to the community. At another meeting in Newtok, the community voted and selected Alternative 1 as the preferred layout. This alternative was modified based on the community’s comments to become the final CLP. The 2008 CLP was designed to meet the needs of Newtok residents. In addition to being functional for their daily activities, the layout considered the topography of the selected site as well as the operation and maintenance costs of utilities.

The planning requirements incorporated into this process included:

  • Centrally locate community facilities
  • Accommodate alternative energy sources
  • Locate washeteria/water treatment plant near the power plant to use waste heat
  • Accommodate 63 single family housing units with room for expansion
  • Provide access to barge landing, airport, gravel source, and fish camp

2008 CLP

2008 CLP

2008 CLP. Click either image to open a full-sized version.

The graphic depictions of the 2008 and 2011 CLPs were for the benefit of the people of Newtok, to ensure the CLP was in a format understandable to the community, integrating Yup’ik language, culturally-influenced graphics, and a poster-sized layout that could be displayed in a public place for people to gather around and discuss.

2011 CLP

Between 2009-2010, the decision was made to move the new community closer to the water, based on the location of the preferred alternative for a future runway at Mertarvik (which overlapped with the 2008 layout), new geotechnical information, the location of a future evacuation center, and the preliminary design of the access road leading from the barge landing to the evacuation center. With funding from the Alaska Climate Change Impact Mitigation Program , Newtok retained HDR Alaska to develop a revised version of the CLP based on this new information.

The planning requirements for this version of the CLP were the same as in 2008. Two alternatives that built upon these principles were developed. Based on community and agency input, Alternative 2 was the preferred choice, and after further modifications, became the final CLP. The new location of the town site influenced the shift of housing toward the hillside, and new lots for future development were added. Community buildings and facilities were still concisely located together.

2011 CLP Revision

2011 CLP Revision

2011 CLP Revision. Click either image to open a full-sized version.

2015 CLP

In 2015, the Newtok Village Council (NVC) pursued a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) application to FEMA to relocate 12 homes from Newtok to Mertarvik. The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHS&EM) prepared the application on behalf of the NVC. VSW offered to take the 2011 CLP to a preliminary paper plat level to include with the HMGP application to show where the relocated homes would go. Modifications were made to lot and road alignments, and lots were added for future development, but the general design of the 2011 layout, selected by the people of Newtok, was retained.

2015 CLP 2015 Paper Plat

2015 CLP (left) and paper plat (right). Click each image to open a full-sized version.

2017 CLP

In 2016, the Denali Commission provided funding to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to develop a final community layout and site plan. The final layout added additional engineering and funding analysis with community input to complete the layout of homes and infrastructure for the new village site. The final community layout plan provides technical feasibility of construction, minimizes construction cost, maximizes affordability of operations, incorporates subsistence activities and traditional values, and aligns with the pioneering approach to relocation. A short video documenting the final layout development process may be viewed here . The final layout was approved by resolution of the Newtok Village Council in May 2017.

2017 Site Plan and CLP
2017 Site Plan (left) and CLP (right). Click to open a full-sized version.

Contact for More Information

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
Phone: (907) 269-4588 FAX: (907) 269-4563