You might remember that episode of “The Simpsons” back in 1996 when a trash problem got so bad that the entire town of Springfield had to move. It seemed like a silly plot line at the time, but now an Alaskan village is considering moving the entire town. It’s isn’t because of trash, though, it’s due to the coastline that keeps coming farther inland.
This story comes from the village of Shishmaref, which is just north of the Bering Strait. There are about 600 people that live in the village, and many of them have been facing problems from the sea. Water levels have been rising in recent years, with many blaming climate change, and the erosion of the coastline has made the village uninhabitable for many.
There is not much money in Shishmaref, so they might not be able to afford relocating the entire village. It’s estimated that the cost of moving every person and building would cost around $180 million, which is much more than the 600 people of the village have. Town officials held an election for the residents, with 89 of them voting to relocate the village and 78 voting to stay put and find another way to combat the rising water levels.
While it would be expensive to leave, it’s also expensive to stay as a study by the Army Corps of Engineers predicted that it would cost Shishmaref $110 million to remain where they are. Why so much? According to the village’s officials, they need to add protective measures to combat the changing environment as erosion has taken hold in Shishmaref more than anywhere else in Alaska.
One thing that they can not do, however, is nothing. The population of Shishmaref has grown, and so far the only responsive action to erosion on the coast has been minimal. Mayor Harold Weyiouanna told reporters that “They did put a seawall or rock walls up, and it seems to be holding, but we need more protection to protect the whole island.”
Shishmaref is not alone in their battle against climate change, as the United States Government Accountability Office predicts that there are nearly 30 villages like it that could possibly be wiped out from rising sea levels in the near future. The problem also didn’t pop up overnight, as town officials have been considering a move for more than 40 years.
The town first decided to move back in 2002, but the high costs of doing so prevented it from coming to fruition. Even now, there is only about $8 million in place to help with the move. The most that any town has received to relocate didn’t even reach $50 million as an island in Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico did so.
One native of Shishmaref, Esau Sinnok, knows that something needs to happen soon. Within the next two decades, the whole island will erode away completely,” he said. “To put this in perspective: I was born in 1997, and since then, Shishmaref has lost about 100 feet…We had to move 13 houses…from one end of the island to the other because of this loss of land.”
So now that residents of Shishmaref have decided that they need to relocate, will they be able to do it this time around? The state of Alaska is asking the federal government for the necessary amount of money to move the residents and buildings, but it might not be in the budget. There is a lot of red tape to get through for now, so by the time they are able to collect the necessary amount of money, Shishmaref could be a lost city. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but you know how long the government can take to fix a problem.