Military pulls out of Kivalina project

Posted: Sunday, March 19, 2000

KOTZEBUE (AP) -- The military has backed away from a plan to use training funds to help the town of Kivalina move to a new site. The military involvement could have saved as much as $14 million of the project expected to cost up to $170 million.

The Department of Defense announced last month it was unable to provide funds for project Arctic Express Mission, which would have started construction on buildings and roads for relocation of the village. The Defense Department said the proposed mission would overload military resources.

The mission included military personnel transporting building materials to Alaska and building 15 houses.

Enoch Adams of Kivalina's tribal council was not overly concerned about the development. ''Financially, we're back at square one,'' he said.

Kivalina residents hope to move from the town's current site on a barrier island about 80 miles northwest of Kotzebue before erosion reaches homes on the thin sliver of land.

Adams said the Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority is now seeking alternative funding. The process may be postponed for a period of six months to a year, he said. He estimated that the military personnel and equipment would have saved $14 million of the cost of moving the 350 or so residents. Estimates of that cost ranger from $60 million to about $170 million depending on the site chosen.

Adams said he was confident that the change would not affect the estimate that is now being presented to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

''I don't think it'll have an effect on the granting of federal money, except that perhaps they will increase the amount,'' Adams said.

Besides the loss of military participation, Kivalina has faced other obstacles in the planning of the relocation.

A decision on a new site for the village was postponed until later this month, following extensive survey work carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The relocation of Kivalina has been discussed for more than two decades, but only recently did the village seem confident of a site. Residents voted 85-19 in March 1998 to move about two miles inland to a site on the banks of the Wulik River.

However, a survey carried out by engineers suggested that the Igrugavik site near the Wulik River, chosen for its proximity to game, was unsuitable because of the high concentration of ice in the ground.

The new village site is now set to be chosen at a public meeting planned for March 29. Dave Williams of the Army Corps of Engineers said it was worthwhile to spend the time to make the right choice.

''I'm familiar with several villages that have been moved, and in almost every case the people are very unhappy with where they got moved,'' he said.

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