Erosion disaster gets no help from state

by Mark Arehart on November 14, 2012

This September the Village of Akiak declared an erosion disaster when hundreds of feet of coastline fell into the Kuskokwim River in under a month. The community did what it could by moving houses and power lines. Village officials say the community is in need of financial and logistical assistance to stop the erosion, but the state says there is little it can do.

The Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs oversees all state disaster declarations.

But, to qualify for disaster assistance incident has to meet specific regulations, said DMVA Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre.

“(The erosion in Akiak) is outside of the disaster statutes and is not a disaster event and will not be declared,” Pierre said.

He said that in order to qualify as a disaster, the incident needs to be caused by a single event, like a storm, earthquake or fire.

“Long term erosion issues are not tied to one specific disaster event. Something that would drive a single activity that would cause damage,” he said.

Akiak tribal member Mike Williams Sr. is not satisfied. This fall he saw over forty-feet of coastline disappear in just hours. And before freeze up, his dog yard was being threatened by erosion.

He said other communities along the Kuskokwim river, including Kwethluk and Napakiak, are also being threatened by erosion.

“It’s a statewide and national issue that congress will have to do something about,” Williams said.

The community has been in contact with various state agencies, as well as local an national legislators.

“But, I think the Army Corp. of Engineers and all the agencies need to quit giving us the run-around and provide real solutions for communities like Akiak,” Williams said.

He said those solutions could including building a seawall or diverting the channel in front of the village.

Pierre said in order to receive assistance from any state agency, he thinks the community should have a plan in place.

“That’s going to be key for every village to get response from the state and legislature, to have a strong coherent plan.”

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