Shaktoolik building berm to guard against erosion

NOME, Alaska — A small Alaska community at risk of erosion is taking matters into its own hands, building a coastal berm as a line of defense against fall storm surges.

Residents of Shaktoolik, which is on the east shore of Norton Sound, about 125 miles east of Nome, say that while governmental reports over the years have found the community at risk of erosion, they haven’t received the kind of funding needed to relocate or otherwise fight the problem.

In 2008, a state working group classified Shaktoolik as one of eight Alaska communities “in greatest peril due to climate change.” In 2009 the federal Government Accountability Office listed Shaktoolik as one of four Alaska communities “likely need(ing) to move all at once and as soon as possible” from continued flooding and erosion.

“But again there is no money,” Shaktoolik Mayor Eugene Asicksik tells KNOM ( “That’s where we’ve taken initiative upon ourselves.”

The community saved and raised money to build a berm themselves — $620,000 in community development and grant funds from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.

A pile of driftwood four-feet high lines the coast of Shaktoolik, the first step toward building the berm.

Asicksik said work will continue until the money runs about, about three months. That will pay for labor, equipment and fuel but not for an engineer. Construction was in its second week.

Locals are working off a blueprint from the state transportation department, which had intended to build a vegetated berm as an experiment for other eroding communities. The Shaktoolik version doesn’t include the vegetation, due to limited funds, the mayor said.

Transportation department coastal engineers Harvey Smith and Ruth Carter support the community’s efforts.

“They’re kind of taking our idea and making it happen in a bigger way than what we could do with our little grant,” Carter said.

The berm will consist of materials from the Shaktoolik coast — driftwood and gravel.

Asicksik isn’t sure how long the berm, when built, will last. At best, he said the barrier will keep out storm surge. But it also will buy time, he said, either for residents to remain in that location or escape a storm.

“Yes, we could just sit here and see what happens. But I can’t. I personally can’t,” he said, motioning at the berm’s beginning. “So in a way we are taking our own fate.”

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