This paper was written as part of the 2005 Alaska Ocean Sciences Bowl high school competition. The conclusions in this report are solely those of the student authors.
Cost Analysis of Moving Four Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Villages in Response to Rising Sea Levels
Global warming is causing rising sea levels that is threatening the relocation of people living at of near sea level. We observed two options for relocation. The first was, relocating people and buildings to another area, with the construction of new roads, runways, and public buildings. The second was, moving the entire population to Bethel and building new housing. After looking into it, we decided that option two would be much easier to do, and is much more cost efficient.
Introduction to Our Region
There are 56 native villages in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta region. Most are located on the banks of rivers or seacoasts. Village populations range from Mekoryuk with 210 residents to Hooper Bay with 1,014 residents. Bethel, the hub city, has a population of 5,471 (see Table 1). The rivers are very important to life in this region. They provide food for many families, transportation from village to village, and recreation for people. Subsistence hunting and gathering is important to village life, and most depend on their subsistence lifestyle for food. Most families spend a majority of the summer living at fish camps, gathering fish for the fall and winter. In the late summer, berries are picked and stored. When fall comes around, the men hunt moose, caribou, ptarmigan, and other species of birds.
Most villages consist of a school, a clinic, a post office, tribal and city council buildings, a washateria, and residential housing. Many villages don't have running water, so schools and washaterias play important roles in the villages. Residents not only wash their clothes, but they can also take showers at the washaterias. Since most villages don't have running water or sanitation facilities, they use honey buckets. Honey buckets are 5 gallon buckets with a toilet seat on top. Honey buckets are dumped in village dumpsites or sewer lagoons. Some villages have places set up within the town in which honey buckets are discarded. During the summer and ice-free period, barges deliver goods to the villages and residents.
The Problems We Face
Rising Arctic temperatures, declining sea ice, melting Arctic glaciers, and rising sea levels are some results of global warming. Flooding is the main problem in the Yukon–Kuskokwim delta. As glaciers and ice caps melt, the sea level will get higher and higher. Scientist predict a rise of 1 m or more in this century (Hileman, 2003). Many of the villages in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta region are near sea level or at the risk of becoming near sea level. As sea levels slowly rise, villages are put at greater risk to flooding. Coastal and riverine flooding is causing millions of dollars of damage in the villages. Homes, public buildings, airport runways, roads, and barge landings are all either damaged or destroyed, or threatened by flooding and erosion.
Rising Arctic temperatures are causing winters to come later in the year (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2004), which leaves riverbanks and seacoasts unprotected by shore ice for a longer period of time. Without the protection of shore ice, the riverbanks and seacoasts are at great danger of erosion from the waves caused by storm surges. Larger storm surges are able to reach the shores of the communities in this region because of the reduction in sea ice.
Arctic temperatures are slowly rising, due to the greenhouse effect. As the temperature rises, arctic and Antarctic glaciers are slowly melting, causing higher sea levels. Higher sea levels causes increased flooding in many villages. Most villages are at sea level or very close. Since many of the villages are located along the rivers or seacoast, they are at risk of flooding.
Erosion is also a problem along with flooding. Storm surges affect the coast and riverbanks, causing erosion. Ice shelves and permafrost are natural barriers that protect the shores from storms and tidal forces. But the increasing temperatures are causing these to melt, leaving the shores vulnerable to erosion and floods. With less ice to protect the shorelines, storms surges have become more and more severe, because they are able to generate larger, more powerful waves. Most villages are also vulnerable to flooding and erosion due to ice jams that occur at breakup, villages along riverbanks, are prone to severe flooding and erosion from the water that builds up behind the ice jams. Villages along the coast are flooded and prone to erosion from the sea. When the coast is not protected by sea ice, they are at more of a risk of flooding and erosion from storm surges. Some of the communities are looking at having to relocate because of flooding and erosion. The cost of relocation is very expensive, and there are many complications. There is the expense of new houses, public buildings, schools, clinics, post offices, and roads.
We chose four villages that were within ten feet of sea level. To pick these four villages, we looked up the sea levels of the villages in the region and chose the ones that had the greatest danger of being flooded and were the closest to sea level (see Table 1). These are the first villages that would have to be moved. These villages are: Alakanuk at 10 feet above sea level; Kipnuk at 5.5 feet above sea level; Kotlik at 7 feet above sea level; and Quinhagak at 10 feet above sea level.
At the rate the sea level is raising, these four villages are at a risk of severe floods that can place them at sea level. In short time, the melting glacier ice will increase storm surge flooding of the villages, forcing their resident to make the decision to move to higher ground. Even without the complication of melting sea ice and arctic glaciers, the villages sometimes flood in the fall when strong southwest winds produce storm surges.
Solution One: Relocate the Entire Village
The village of Newtok is attempting to move their village to another location. They are experiencing severe erosion (Tizon, 2004). Moving the village would cost a considerable amount of money. Estimates range from $50 million to $100 million to move the 65–house community (Tizon, 2004). The price tag is expected to be so high because of the costs of materials and transportation to rural Alaska. It would take several months or years to relocate the village. But waves from the stronger storm surges are causing severe erosion on the coast of the village. The waves plus high tide, makes the damage from the storm surges even worse. The village has already lost more than 4,000 feet of land to erosion, and is averaging the loss of about 90 feet of shoreline per year (GAO, 2003). It is believed that the land under the village will completely erode within the next five years. There are several other villages that face the same problems of erosion and flooding.
The Native Village of Shishmaref is also in danger of having to relocate. There are about 150 homes in Shishmaref and all of its public buildings would have to be moved if the decision was made to relocate. Shishmaref also has an area of land already picked and ready for the move, but the government is still studying the amount of erosion on the coast. The cost of relocating Shishmaref could cost $180 million (Gay 2005).
Both villages have land set aside to relocate the villages. Newtok made a deal with the government to swap land areas. There are many complications with the relocation, though. No one is willing to move the village for relocation unless the village has roads. No government entity will build roads unless the village has a post office. No government entity will build a post office unless there is a runway. No government entity will build a runway unless there are homes in the new village site. So there is a lot of planning and arranging that has to happen before the village can be moved (Charlie, pers. comm., 2005).
The residents of Shishmaref and Newtok would rather move their villages to new sites than move to nearby communities because they want their villages to remain intact. They don't want to lose their history, and sense of being their own communities.
Solution Two: Relocate to Bethel
The other option would be to move all the residents of Quinhagak, Alakanuk, Kipnuk, and Kotlik to Bethel. New housing would be constructed for them in Bethel. There would already be a post office, hospital, schools, and stores. Instead of having to worry about building new public buildings, roads, and a new runway, it will already be here in Bethel.
First we found the median price per square foot for new home construction in Bethel, which is $130 based on a range of $120*#8211;$140 per square foot (Wells-Fargo, Bethel Branch, pers. comm., 2005). Then we found that it costs $20,000 for a lot. 1000 square feet per house was the measurement we used for each house. For 617 houses came out to 617,000 square feet. When you multiply that by $130 per square foot of construction, it comes out to $80,210,000 to rebuild all the required new houses in Bethel. Then we went ahead and multiplied $20,000 times 617 houses, which came to the amount of $12,340,000. When you add those together, the total for 617 lots and new houses comes out to $92,550,000 (see Table 4).
Based on the cost of a 35-home subdivision in 1997 (see Table 2), 617 houses would require infrastructure that includes:
When you add all of them together for the 617 houses, the grand total comes out to $37,484,791 for the entire infrastructure.
Estimated to cost anywhere between $50–$100 million.
We took the estimated cost and divided it by the number of houses in Newtok (65) to get the average cost per home.
Cost per home: Average between $769,230.80–$1,538,462 per home to relocate.
Estimated to cost about $180 million.
We took the estimated cost and divided it by the number of houses in Shishmaref (150) to get the average cost per home.
Cost per home: About $1.2 million per home to relocate.
Our choice would be to move the people to Bethel. There would be new housing for the people. They can have all their belongings and vehicles shipped to Bethel. There are schools and a post office here already. Construction of a new school may have to be an option, if there are too many school-age children. But the cost of a new school and new housing would still be less than the cost of moving four whole villages to another location.
Table 1. Population, housing, and elevation data for Calista Region Villages.
Table 2. Actual costs for infrastructure in a 35-home subdivision built in the Calista Region in 1997 (all costs are in 1997 dollars).
Table 3. Projected infrastructure costs for a 617-home subdivision based on per-unit costs for existing housing in the region (see table 2).
Table 4. Total cost of reconstructing 617 new 1,000-square-foot homes in Bethel, Alaska.
Table 5. Cost per housing unit for relocation options.
Charlie, Mark. 2005. Personal communication. Association of Village Council Presidents Housing Authority, Vice President. (907) 543-3121
Gay, Joel. 2005. "Shishmaref relocation cost gauged." Anchorage Daily News 31 Jan. 2005
Government Accounting Office. 2003. "Alaska Native Villages: Most Are Affected by Flooding and Erosion, but Few Qualify for Federal Assistance" 12 Dec. 2003
Hassol, Susan Joy. 2004. "Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2004" Cambridge University Press http://www.acia.uaf.edu/
Hileman, Bette. 2003. Climate Change. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/8150/8150climatechange.html
Olsson, Johan "The Effects of Global Warming" 12 Jan. 1996 http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/1848/global.html
Tizon, Thomas Allen. "Alaskan villages in hot water Rising temperatures melt ice barriers, imperil communities." Los Angeles Times 7 Nov. 2004
Wells-Fargo. Bethel Branch Loan Officer. Personal communication. (907) 543-3875. (Actual figures given were a range from $120–$140 per square foot)