500 year-old Alaskan town votes to relocate as climate change submerges island

Alaskan town votes to relocate as climate change submerges island

SHISHMAREF, Alaska (UPI) — The Alaskan village of Shishmaref narrowly voted to abandon their island and relocate to the mainland due to the effects of climate change, a town official said.

The 89-to-78 vote Wednesday makes Shishmaref, north of the Bering Strait, one of the first towns in the United States to move due to climate change. Melting sea ice is raising ocean levels and will submerge the island in a few decades.

The town dates back approximately 500 years according to Donna Barr, secretary of the Shishmaref Council.

Relocation would cost at least $180 million and residents will still have to choose a new location at a town meeting later, the Shishmaref city clerk’s office said.

“About 15 years ago, they estimated the cost at $180 million, but I would figure it’s much higher now,” Barr said. “We don’t see the move happening in our lifetime because of the funding.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has identified nine Alaskan villages at imminent risk because of erosion and rising seas. They have been urged to move, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Another 200 to 300 villages face similar risks in the next few decades, the Corps said.

The village of Newtok, about 370 miles south of Shishmaref, has already voted to move using state and federal funds from HUD, spokeswoman Maria Gonoa said.