Shaktoolik, an Inupiaq village of 250 people located on the Norton Sound coast, is experiencing many of the same environmental changes and threats to traditional life as other similarly situated arctic Alaska coastal villages. In particular, Shaktoolik faces severe threats from storm surges, flooding and coastal erosion that could destroy the community entirely with enough intensity. Ultimately, the community will likely have to move, but relocation is currently estimated to cost $290 million (over $1 million per resident). Instead, the community has decided to spend less than $1 million to protect the village for at least another 20 years and do what they can during that time.

Through an adaptation planning process, the community came to consensus on nine actions, which included building a vegetated berm. Using Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC) grant funding, the community bought army surplus dump trucks, fuel from the City, secured rights to local gravel from the Native Corporation, hired local workers, and completed construction of a five-foot high berm on the seaward side of the village. The berm is local gravel over driftwood, topped by sod for vegetative cover.

Shaktoolik is a good example of a place where the community took charge. Much of the community’s success was due to good leadership and a positive attitude about working together to adapt to change. The City, Tribe and Village Corporation worked well together, and the community was skilled in both finding money and carrying out practical, locally-based engineering projects. Shaktoolik’s working principles include:

  • Low-cost measures most likely to get funded;
  • Low-tech measures most likely to be successful;
  • Use local labor, talent, and materials;
  • Take the initiative; don’t wait for government to do it.