Alaskan Villagers Decide to Move Village as Sea Rises

Shishmaref is slowly slipping away
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 18, 2016 5:29 PM CDT
Village Votes to Move Over Climate Change
An abandoned house at the west end of Shishmaref, Alaska, sits on the beach after sliding off during a fall storm in 2005.   (AP Photo/Diana Haecker, File)

In what was far from an easy decision, residents of a small island village in Alaska voted this week to relocate their home to the mainland, the Guardian reports. The reason? Rising sea levels have been eroding the village of Shishmaref for decades. "The land is going away," one resident told CNN in 2009. "I think it's going to vanish one of these days." The village on the island of Sarichef north of the Bering Strait is home to 600 people, but the population is growing even as the land shrinks. "Multiple families live in one home," one resident tells KTUU. "We're running out of land for buildings." A native of Shishmaref says they had to move 13 houses since 2000 to keep them from falling into the water.

Tuesday's vote was 89 to 78 in favor of moving Shishmaref to the mainland. The only problem: the impoverished Inupiat Eskimo village can't afford it. A 2004 Army Corps of Engineers study put the cost of relocation at $180 million, the AP reports. Residents already voted to move in 2002 but were stopped by the cost. "We don't see the move happening in our lifetime," the secretary of the Shishmaref council told CNN. But staying won't come cheap, either. The environmental protections needed to keep the village safe are estimated at $110 million. However, Tuesday's vote will allow government agencies that could one day fund the move to continue studying the possibility. (Some famous US landmarks might be at risk, too.)

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