Newtok focused its Community Planning Grant on the village relocation to Nelson Island through two projects: the conceptual design of an evacuation center to be built at the village relocation site, Mertarvik, and the revision of the Mertarvik Community Layout Plan to reflect the community's final decision for the location of the townsite at Mertarvik.
Newtok is located on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta along the western coast of Alaska, near the confluence of the Newtok and Ninglick Rivers. The Ninglick River is eroding toward Newtok at an average rate of 72 feet per year. The maximum yearly observed rate of erosion is 300 feet per year. Historical and projected erosion rates of the Ninglick River toward Newtok show the Ninglick River reaching the community school by about 2017.
In 1994, the Newtok Traditional Council started a relocation planning process in response to the erosion problem. The Council analyzed six potential village relocation sites, and a community vote in August 2003 overwhelmingly selected a site on the north end of Nelson Island, approximately 9 miles southeast of Newtok. The community has named this site Mertarvik, which in Yup'ik means, "getting water from the spring".
Congress approved a land exchange between the Newtok Native Corporation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003, under the Alaskan Native Village and the Interior Department Land Exchange Act of November 17, 2003, Public Law 108-129, 117 Stat. 1358. The Department of Interior conveyed 10,943 acres at the Mertarvik site to the Newtok Village Corporation on April 28, 2004.
In recent years, changes in the river channels that surround Newtok have increased the frequency and severity of flooding in the community. Lower lying areas of the community flood almost every year, and recent, more severe floods have inundated substantial areas of the community. These events have compromised the village water supply, endangered public health by spreading raw sewage throughout the community, displaced residents from homes, destroyed subsistence food storage and other facilities, and shut down essential utilities.
In 2008, the Newtok Traditional Council hired the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to prepare the conceptual design of the Mertarvik Evacuation Center (MEC). The MEC will provide a safe place for the Newtok community to seek refuge in the event of severe flooding following a serious storm. The MEC can support construction activities at Mertarvik while the new village is being developed, and can later serve as a community center in the fully developed community.
The conceptual design for the MEC was completed in July 2009. The conceptual design incorporates innovative approaches to make the evacuation center more affordable, sustainable, energy efficient, and to reflect community and cultural values.
Intended to be a component of a larger, comprehensive relocation planning effort for the new village site, the Mertarvik Community Layout Plan provides the "blueprint" for the efficient and orderly development of the new community.
Flooding in the village of Newtok during the 2005 Fall Sea Storm. Photo: Stanley Tom, Newtok Traditional Council
Newtok Traditional Council
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development