March 26, 2019

An Alaska village's existential dilemma

By Duff Wilson

SHISHMAREF, Alaska (Reuters) – The Chukchi Sea’s unrelenting waves were slowly ripping away the land and homes of the 600 or so residents of this Alaska Native village on a sinking barrier island. U.S. government reports determined that the community was “imminently threatened” with inundation and needed “immediate action” to move to safer ground on the mainland. Villagers voted 161-20 to relocate off the island. Shishmaref, the media proclaimed, would be the United States’ first climate refugees.

That was in 2002.

More than a decade later, the U.S. government has yet to come up with a new location. Shishmaref has stayed put, protected temporarily by a $19 million rock revetment that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished in 2009.

“You almost have to be half the way dead to get help,” said Clifford Weyiouanna, former chair of a relocation coalition.

If Alaska is a test, the U.S. is failing it. The nation lacks any designated agency to help communities relocate even if they are literally falling into the water. Shishmaref is one of three Alaska Native communities on an emergency relocation list put out by the Army Corps and the U.S. General Accounting Office, but none have been able to move.

David Williams, Army Corps project manager for Shishmaref, said the community can’t afford the local share of moving costs nor agree on where to relocate.

Alternative sites selected by federal, state and tribal officials rest on thawing permafrost. The land would slump and sink into a muddy mess unless there was sand or gravel added at great expense to stabilize it. Many residents feel safer where they are, behind the row of rocks the agency installed as a stopgap measure.

“I told them once we build the sea wall, everybody’s going to get comfortable and say we don’t need to relocate anymore,” said Tony Weyiouanna, Clifford’s cousin and president of the Shishmaref Native Corp. “But they don’t see the other problems. The sea level’s rising. It’s going to happen eventually.”

Ironically, the Iñupiats were forced to consolidate on the barrier island about 90 years ago because of federal rules requiring a centralized school. Alaska Natives spread along 100 miles of shoreline were gathered together on a barrier island.

Life here has never been easy. The Iñupiat rely on a subsistence economy, eking out a living on hunting, fishing, berry-picking and food stamps. Seal carcasses litter the town. Most homes have no running water.

The island, just a quarter-mile wide, has lost hundreds of feet of unprotected shore since the 1960s, including another 25 feet or so last year. Water creeps ever closer to the airstrip, the town’s only connection to the outside world. “We don’t have a plan if the airport were washed out,” former Mayor Stanley Tocktoo said in January at a congressional hearing on climate change.

Voting to relocate, without actually relocating, has made things only worse. Water, sewer and health systems have deteriorated; no one is willing to invest in a town that is always talking about relocating.

“The decision to move,” Tocktoo said, “has been very costly for us.”

(Edited by John Blanton)

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An Alaska village's existential dilemma

The Battle to Be King of Ibiza Nightlife

This summer, global media attention turned to the tiny Mediterranean island of Ibiza after a brawl broke out between Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber at the posh restaurant, Downtown Cipriani. But the catchy headlines opportunely concealed a dispute on a much higher scale: the ruthless competition between local bigwigs to split the enormous pie of the Ibizenco clubbing market.

Financiers, heirs of large fortunes, and ambitious self-made men were all trying their luck with more or less success within the Balearic entertainment El Dorado.

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By the late 60s, the island witnessed a massive inflow of hippies and beatniks, who progressively displaced by the arrival of the jet set in the 70s, and real estate speculation that comes with the money.

But Ibiza reached its peak during the 90s, when the island became the starting point of the techno movement. All the European partyboys and girls, from Manchester to Barcelona, came to [party revel/go wild] in the island’s legendary clubs and embrace its hedonistic lifestyle.

READ MORE New York’s Scariest Night Out

But in recent years, tourism has exploded (in 2010, there were 2.4 million tourists) and the arrival of ambitious new investors has changed everything. La Isla Bonita has slowly turned into a strange melting pot of super wealthy oligarchs and new fortunes from the Persian Gulf—with their yachts parked in the very VIP Marina Botafoch—underage Italian clubbers wearing Ed Hardy shirts, British reality TV stars, and Premier league football players.

Giuseppe Cipriani, 49 years old and the head of his family’s eponymous restaurant empire, entered the game in Ibiza two years ago. Often regarded as an international playboy with a taste for top-models, he has tried to blow a wind of change on the island since 2013, bringing a wealthier, more high-profile clientele to the island. After succeeding in opening his restaurant, Downtown, along Ibiza’s marina in 2012, the Italian mogul raised in New York started thinking about ways to expand on the island.

READ MORE The Crazy Medieval Island of Sark

After months of buzz and suspense cultivated by local authorities, who had been inexplicably slow to issue the necessary licenses, Cipriani finally announced the grand opening of his night club Bomba, built over the ruins of the old Heaven Club—formerly known as The Penelope—one of the leading gay clubs in Ibiza during the early 2000s.

But, one doesn’t open a club with such visibility within a walking distance to the world famous Pacha Club—a mythical place that has hosted the wild nights of hippies and jet setters since the seventies—without some teeth gnashing. At 75, the spirited Pacha founder, Ricardo Urgell, keeps an iron hand on his empire. The smiling, white-haired impresario opened the Ibiza club in 1973, before turning it into a global franchise. With his family, he stands among one of the most influential people on the island. Local rumors speculated that Cipriani’s administrative troubles building his newest property was linked to Urgell’s influence at town hall. When asked for comment, a public relations representative for Urgell said he was on a business trip and “not available to answer” questions at the moment.

READ MORE OMG, I Want This House

Indeed, Cipriani had been wise enough to poach Danny Whittle, 52, the man behind Pacha’s success, to help with his newest venture. Upon his arrival in Ibiza in 1993, Whittle quickly became one of the leading architects that helped to create the island’s party-hard reputation. An electronic music enthusiast, he first worked for the cult Renaissance evening parties at Privilege and Pacha Club, in association with Ministry of Sound, a pioneer in electro music labels, before hosting his own party events. He also developed the parties, Home in Space, that eventually became the famous We Love parties with impressive line-ups of the “la crème de la creme” of international electronic artists. He was hired by Pacha Club as the new artistic director, and radically transformed it during his 13 years there.

Unlike others, Whittle remains deeply convinced that superstar DJ’s are the key ingredient to nightclub success, as he told The Daily Beast with an affable smile over una cerveza at the iconic Gran Hotel’s bar.

READ MORE Join The Mile High (Dining) Club

“You should compare night clubs to the football Premier League. You may have a magnificent stadium, [but] if you don’t pay to get top notch artists to perform, clients will not come over,” Whittle says.

As a visionary—and no doubt feeling the changes happening on the the Island—Whittle set himself a new challenge a year ago: to reach a comparable success to Pacha with Cipriani at his side.

READ MORE OMG, I Want This House

In spite of his new entrepreneurial vision, Whittle maintains his good feelings towards the Pacha owners.

“Beyond what happened, I will always love Pacha, the owners, and what the club stands for,” he says.

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In July 2013, I questioned Cipriani about the difficulties had while trying to open Bomba. He welcomed me on the stylish terrace of his restaurant facing the Marina, where waiters in white tuxedos were waving in all directions a few minutes before opening time. He played down the issue, saying, “People use to be more suspicious on an island were everyone knows one another. Fear of competition is stronger than anywhere else. Coming from Venezia, I perfectly know this feeling.”

But nothing ever happens as expected. Only a few insiders remember the prophetic words Mark Netto, Danny Whittle’s longtime partner, said with a knowing smile during the opening session of the 2013 International Music Summit in Ibiza’s Gran Hotel: “You know, on the island, change isn’t always welcome.”

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In fact, Bomba almost turned into a nightmare for the Cipriani-Whittle duo. A few weeks after the opening, they abruptly had to change the club’s name, due to an unexpected intellectual property dispute. In January 2014, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) stated that Cipriani and his ultra-wealthy occasional partner Eyhab Jumean had no ownership right on the Bomba trademark. So Bomba became Booom!. Disappointed by the decision, Whittle and his team left Cipriani’s venture and joined David Vincent’s team—another one of Ibiza’s nightclub influencers who is the director of the underground and trendy venue, Sankeys.

And then at the end of January 2014, Periodico de Ibiza, a local newspaper, reported that Booom!’s landlord, Nung River SL, a company owned by the Cabau Family (whose daughter Yolanthe is married to superstar international soccer player Wesley Sneijder) were filing a complaint for 450,000 euros (approximately $564,000) in unpaid rent against the nightclub and were requesting the eviction of the tenant. The May 5 eviction date has come and gone, and Booom! is still open and has planned its Closing Parties for this season, an annual tradition for worldwide clubbers that takes place at the end of September. Neither Cipriani nor Whittle responded to requests for comment.

READ MORE The Ladies Disrupting the Bar Boys’ Club

These changes and the purported rivalry between Cipriani and Urgell has not seemed to affect the omnipotence of another of the island’s big players: local tycoon Abel Matutes, 73, the almighty patriarch of a clan rooted on the island for three centuries. Mayor of Ibiza under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship as well as member of the Spanish Parliament and of the European Commission, Don Abel has combined politics and business with exceptional talent. He now presides over public works, maritime transportation (the major vessel of the Balearia fleet bears his name), real estate, and 12,000 beds in hotels at all levels of the tourism industry (including the impressive Hard Rock Hotel). Few of the annual 2.5 million tourists who come to La Isla Blanca every year escape paying their due at one of his registers.

The Matutes group also owns the mythic Space Club and the giant Privilege Club. Standing at the top of the luxury market is Ushuaia Hotel, where jet setters and oligarchs used to pay 10,000 euros for a suite, and the brand new Hard Rock Hotel with the most expensive restaurant in the world.

READ MORE OMG, I Want This House

Obviously, one does not become the leading economic power in Ibiza without making a few enemies. Daughter Estrella, 42, is a professional designer who doesn’t mention her famous name on her blog. She was also involved in politics as the head of Ibiza’s urban development from 2004 to 2007. In July 2007, district attorney Adrian Salazar accused her, along with several of her public office colleagues, of having submitted to the vote of the council an urban master plan that allowed the sale of land which directly benefited her and companies in which her family has economic interests. 

Estrella was eventually cleared of the allegations, but the situation was criticized in dramatic terms by her successor to the urban development council, eco-activist Neus Prats. In Ibiza, compliance to the law is reserved for the poor. The Matutes, on the contrary, adjust it to their needs, while the island is drowning,” Neus Prats told El Pais.

READ MORE The Isle Where the Rolling Stones Began

But Giuseppe Cipriani seems to have unexpected abilities to bounce back: he recently succeeded in buying a strategic piece of land facing Roberto Cavalli’s new restaurant on the Marina Botafoch—5137 square meters auctioned off by the Spanish department of Defense that Cipriani bought for 8,101,196 euros, a price apparently too high for Matutes, in spite of his public connections, as reported by Spanish newspaper El Confidencial.

Regardless of how the impresarios’ competitive jostling to be crowned king of Ibiza nightlife shakes out, the undeniable fact is that the island is forever changed. Apart from the colorful weekly flea market of Las Dahlias in San Carlos, a tiny village in the northern area of the island, there is nothing left of the former hippie paradise of the seventies. After decades of stubborn resistance, local farmers finally agreed to sell huge parts of land to real estate promoters and entertainers. The turning point was probably the building of a big highway which was met by a major, and ultimately unsuccessful, social protest. Como se dice Winds of change in spanish?

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The Battle to Be King of Ibiza Nightlife

Where retreating from rising seas is the only option

By Deborah J. Nelson and Duff Wilson

SAXIS, Virginia (Reuters) – This town on Chesapeake Bay is losing three to five feet (1 to 1.5 meters) of shoreline a year and suffered damage during hurricane Sandy. But like hundreds of rural communities along the coast, it is competing with much larger, more powerful neighbors for public funds to bankroll a response to rising seas.

Coastal engineers say communities have three options for dealing with rising water levels and increased flooding: defend the shoreline with natural or man-made barriers; adapt, such as by raising roads and buildings; or retreat.

New York City is planning a $20 billion mix of defense and adaptation measures – most notably, construction of “The Big U,” a 10-mile (16-km) fortress of berms and movable walls around lower Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office says three-quarters of the money needed over the next decade is already in hand from federal, state and local sources.

For places like Saxis, population 240, the options are more stark:  retreat now or retreat later.

Many Saxis residents – watermen who harvest oysters, crabs and fish, and seafood industry workers – trace their ancestry to settlers in the 1600s and speak a language peppered with Elizabethan inflections. Some don’t hold out much hope for the future.

“Little places like us, there’s not going to be any help for us because whatever resources are available will be sucked up by the big cities to try to defend them,” said Grayson Chesser, a decoy carver, hunting guide and Accomack County supervisor.

Belinda, a nearby village where his grandfather was born, is one of several he cites that no longer exist, abandoned when frequent flooding made them uninhabitable. Families relocated to higher ground, where he resides today, but now it’s flooding, too.

A decade ago, Saxis managed to get federal approval for a $3.2 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to build eight breakwaters that would slow the sea’s advance. But the town couldn’t scrape together its required contribution of nearly $1 million, so the plan was killed.

The 700 residents of Tangier Island, a better-known historic Chesapeake enclave, waited nearly two decades for $4.2 million in state and federal money to build a 430-foot-long seawall, jetty and stone revetment. The project is scheduled to be finished by 2017.

“It’s becoming more and more competitive for federal funds in terms of protecting communities,” said Curtis Smith, a planner with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District. So Saxis is “competing with Miami and New York and Virginia Beach.”

Virginia Beach, with a population of 438,000, has been the recipient of a federally funded seawall and two major sand projects totaling more than $150 million since 1996.

Some Saxis residents have raised their houses to reduce the risk of flood damage. But that’s only a partial solution if the roads that connect them to grocery stores, hospitals and schools become impassable, Smith said.

There, too, rural areas compete for funding with more heavily trafficked urban areas.

Accomack County has more miles of road in jeopardy from rising sea levels than anywhere else in Virginia, a state study found. On the harder hit Chesapeake Bay side, some spots now flood nearly every full moon.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is struggling with the question of how to combat increased flooding in “low-volume, low-population areas,” said Chris Isdell, the department’s representative in Accomack County. “You’re trying to fight back Mother Nature. … How do you do that in a roadway that sits at sea level?”

Saxis residents may eventually have to face up to the same hard fate Chesser’s grandfather’s community did and abandon their homes.

“I wish I could say I thought Saxis would be saved, but there’s no way. It costs so much money,” Chesser said. “And even if you spend the money, I don’t’ think you can do it. I mean you just can’t beat the ocean. You’re going to lose every time.”

(Edited by John Blanton)

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Where retreating from rising seas is the only option

Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice

ASHAROKEN, N.Y. (AP) — On a tiny spit of land off Long Island, the wealthy village of Asharoken faces a dilemma borne of Superstorm Sandy.

Either it accepts millions of dollars in federal aid to build a protective sand dune and for the first time in its nearly 90-year existence allows the public to use its beach or it rejects the aid and retains its privacy, potentially worsening an erosion problem that saw part of its main road washed out and power lines toppled during the October 2012 storm.

But some of the 600-plus residents in the village of million-dollar homes worry opening up the area could lead to traffic problems, trespassing and more garbage.

“I think privacy, pollution and safety, these are the three main concerns,” resident Asenneth Elsin said. “I don’t have a problem sharing, but unfortunately there will be people not following the rules.”

Asharoken is just one place where the tussle among coastal protection, property rights, public access and federal funding is playing out in New York and New Jersey, both hit hard by the storm.

Much of the damage was caused by storm surge, which flooded or destroyed homes and washed out boardwalks. In some places, such as Surf City on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, dunes held off serious damage while neighboring communities without such protection were nearly wiped out.

Now there’s a movement afoot to build or replenish dunes before the next storm. After Sandy, Congress granted the Army Corps $5.3 billion to study damaged areas and for projects to build dunes, enlarge beaches and install structures to slow sand movement.

Before work can begin, though, property owners must sign agreements allowing access to parts of their property for eternity. And to get the federal funding, communities must agree to provide public routes to the funded beaches.

If they decide to keep the beaches to themselves, it’s either find a way to pay for dunes or risk getting flooded again.

New York and New Jersey officials have said they’re committed to seeing the work through, even if it means getting courts involved. They say taking property by eminent domain is a possibility.

Asharoken lies between Long Island Sound and a harbor on the narrowest part of a peninsula connecting mainland Long Island with the community of Eaton’s Neck at the tip. It has about 300 homes. Residents who don’t live on the water can buy beach-only lots, and they leave kayaks, patio sets, umbrellas and more on the property.

The Corps is studying an estimated $30 million plan to build a dune and berm and enlarge the beach. In a letter to residents, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said if the village didn’t accept the federal funding it would cost homeowners up to $100,000 apiece to restore the beach.

If the Corps project moves forward, Asharoken may have to take property to create public beach access and compensate homeowners. The problem: Because of its small population, it has an annual budget of just over $2 million, so Letica is asking officials to ease the public access requirement.

Asharoken is among several places in New York where the Corps is studying or building dunes.

Some structures may be demolished on Fire Island, a barrier island for Long Island that’s dotted with beachside communities and home to a national seashore, to make way for a project.

Breezy Point, a cooperative on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula that flooded and burned during Sandy, was given a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to study building a $57 million dune with a sea wall.

In New Jersey, 11 Corps projects are planned, but it hasn’t gotten all homeowners to sign easements.

“We’re looking to make our shores more resilient,” said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re doing this for the good of the entire shore and New Jersey.”

A 14-mile dune project from Manasquan Inlet to Barnegat Inlet has some of the most holdouts, with the boroughs of Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach accounting for nearly 200.

In Point Pleasant Beach, much of the boardwalk and beach are privately owned to the mean high-water mark, and several large businesses operate amusements there.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, the largest beachfront property owner, said building a dune would erase beach areas where volleyball, movies, weddings and other events are held. The owners said they don’t believe a dune would stop flooding because properties behind Jenkinson’s weren’t flooded by Sandy’s surge.

The borough has approved granting an easement on property it owns, but 69 other property owners haven’t.

“I understand their concerns, and in a perfect world we wouldn’t do this,” Mayor Vincent Barrella said. “But we don’t have that. We live in a post-Sandy world.”


Emily C. Dooley, a Newsday reporter on leave, is studying community resilience issues, the ability of communities to bounce back from various shocks, as part of a nine-month fellowship at the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which joins NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The fellowship is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice