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January 22, 2018

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

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)

See original article here:

An Alaska village's existential dilemma

Cuban migrants head off from Caymans, bound for Honduras

By Peter Polack

GEORGE TOWN Cayman Islands (Reuters) – A group of 15 Cuban migrants waved to onlookers as they set sail from Grand Cayman aboard a 14-foot homemade boat on Friday after a brief overnight stop, hoping to make the risky 400-mile journey across the Caribbean to the north coast of Honduras.

The boat, made from metal and fiberglass with inner tubes attached to wooden outriggers, was carrying five woman and 10 men and set off last week from Manzanillo, in eastern Cuba. Three other passengers abandoned the journey and turned themselves over to Cayman authorities for repatriation to Cuba.

Cubans seeking to flee the communist-run island are heading in increasing numbers by sea to Central America and then making a long journey overland to reach the United States.

One group of 32 Cuban migrants drifted for three weeks without food or water this summer after their engine failed. Only 15 were found alive when they were rescued by Mexican fishermen.

U.S. officials say more than 16,000 Cubans arrived without visas at the border with Mexico in the past year, the highest number in a decade.

Cuban officials have not commented on the illegal boat departures, but blame the U.S. policy for encouraging migrants to risk their lives.

Under Washington’s “wet foot, dry foot policy,” Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain, while those intercepted at sea are turned back.

One man, who identified himself as Ediberto, said he worked in a hospital, but undertook the dangerous journey because of poor economic conditions in Cuba.

“There is food available, but you have to have money to pay for it,” he said.

Another passenger, Manuel, a farmer from Ciego de Avila, said there is dissatisfaction in the countryside, but people are afraid of Cuba’s communist government.

U.S. Coast Guard patrols have made it hard to reach the United States undetected via the Florida Strait, which separates Cuba and Florida by only 90 miles at its narrowest point.

Many Cubans now opt for the longer western route to Honduras, a trip of about 675 miles, via the Cayman Islands, which takes about 10 days.

Honduran authorities give Cuban migrants temporary visas allowing them to head north for the United States.

(Editing by David Adams. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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Cuban migrants head off from Caymans, bound for Honduras