State of the Beach/State Reports/AK/Erosion Response

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Alaska Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access55
Water Quality23∗
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-4
Beach Fill5-
Shoreline Structures3 5
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas28
Website1∗∗-
Special comments:

∗Since the water quality monitoring program in Alaska only exists on a limited basis, the recreational water quality is largely unknown. Only 117 samples were tested for the state in 2013.

∗∗The Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) is scheduled to sunset at 12:01 AM, Alaska Standard Time, on July 1, 2011 per AS 44.66.030. The Legislature adjourned the special legislative session May 14, 2011 without passing legislation required to extend the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP). This webpage will be viewable for reference purposes through June 30, 2012. It will then be archived within the Department of Natural Resources. Beginning on July 1, 2011 the website will remain static and there will be no further updates to the content of the former ACMP website. If you have any questions, please contact the DNR’s Commissioner’s Office at 907-269-8400.


Introduction

Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and natural hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.


For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions then its rank is high and if the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on Alaska's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.


Policies and Guidance

Policies related to coastal erosion, hazard avoidance and erosion response include:


There are no state setback (from the ocean or cliff edge) requirements, although some local jurisdictions may have such requirements. Real estate sales disclosure requirements exist in some areas. Alaska also does not place restrictions on the rebuilding of structures near the coast after they have been damaged by flooding.[1]

According to Alaska's 2011 Coastal Assessment and Strategy, 6 coastal districts and 5 communities in Coastal Service Resource Areas have approved state comprehensive management plans that contain land use policies to direct development away from hazardous areas. This includes the coastal districts of the Municipality of Anchorage, City of Craig, City and Borough of Juneau, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Kodiak Island Borough, North Slope Borough, and the City and Borough of Yakutat. In addition, the coastal resource service area communities of Anaiak, Mekoryuk, Unalaska, Dillingham, New Stuyahok also have policies in their coastal management plans that direct development away from hazardous areas. On the other hand, a quarter of coastal district plans in Alaska do not incorporate hazards-related objectives or goals, even more do not include natural hazards designations, maps, or policies.

The State of Alaska's Erosion Management Policy is quoted below. Note that this is a policy only, and that it applies only to state-funded and state pass-through projects. Shoreline structures are allowed but several policies in this document suggest important erosion control measures, such as evaluating the use of nonstructural alternatives.

"Erosion threatens individual structures, roads, airports, utility infrastructure and in some locales, entire communities (city, village, subdivision) can be at risk. This policy concerns state-funded and state pass-through funded construction. Other entities in Alaska who construct erosion control structures, or propose development near coastal waters or rivers, are encouraged to consider the following siting, design, and construction policies. Special Appropriations by the Legislature have been the primary method of funding most (non-federally funded) erosion control structures (bulkheads, sea walls, rock revetments, etc.). No State of Alaska departments have authority to build erosion control structures, or to maintain already constructed erosion control structures, intended to protect privately owned facilities, roads or land. This is intended as general policy. State agencies are encouraged to develop their own, more detailed guidance related to state actions adjacent to water bodies.



  1. Before constructing erosion control measures, state agencies should analyze nonstructural alternatives, such as relocating threatened structures, and if consistent with law, proceed with the option that has the greatest benefit for the least cost.
  2. State funded projects should not cause adverse erosion effects to adjacent (unprotected) properties or habitat.
  3. Erosion control structures should not be built to protect minimally used or vacant land.
  4. New structures should be located so that erosion control is not likely to be needed within the structure's design life. If such structures are at risk of erosion loss/damage, the cost of erosion safeguards should be considered.
  5. The cause of the erosion problem (water, ice, wind, current, waves, thermal degradation, precipitation, seepage), and factors that increase or accelerate erosion (such as gravel removal, boat wakes, shoreline vegetation removal) should be identified before alternative solutions are proposed.
  6. Erosion control projects should be sited and designed using appropriate engineering principles. Consideration should include, but not limited to:
    • Design life of a specified project, or survivability to a specified level or event (e.g. 1 percent flood, base flood elevation, 30-year, 60-year project design life, piling depth necessary to withstand scour).
    • Performing an analysis to determine rate of erosion, then avoid building in area that would erode in life of building.
    • Provide erosion control protection as part of the project development.
  7. A state-funded erosion control project shall include stamped drawings designed by a registered engineer in Alaska. The completed structure must conform to these design drawings.
  8. Communities with structural erosion control measures, or erosion-prone areas, should be encouraged to incorporate appropriate flood risk and erosion mitigation planning considerations into local comprehensive plans, ordinances, and subdivision approvals.
  9. Communities which receive state funds for erosion protection should be encouraged to prepare an erosion (and if appropriate, flood) mitigation plan, and land use regulation(s) to prevent losses and to guide development in high-risk erosion and flood-prone areas.
  10. To the extent practical, and consistent with state law, priority for state funds for erosion hazards should be given to communities which have an erosion (and if appropriate, flood) mitigation plan, or land use regulation(s) indicating measures are being taken locally to prevent future losses and development in high risk erosion areas.
  11. If the state finds building, platting, land use regulations within the affected jurisdiction(s) are inadequate and therefore have added substantially to the magnitude of a state declared disaster, public recovery assistance should be limited to a disaster loan until essential changes in such regulations are adopted.


An erosion assessment should be performed if major state-funded development is proposed on property adjacent to a body of water. Examples of acceptable erosion assessments include:

  • Existing reports that include an erosion rate estimate.
  • Site evaluation by a registered engineer, or water resources specialist.
  • Long period, low altitude aerial photography can be compared to ascertain shoreline movement. However, long-period adequate scale aerial photography is often not available. Many river shore and coastal shoreline areas are subject to dramatic short-term changes, often measuring several hundred feet in major storms or during a high water season. Modeling to depict impact on recession rates has not been developed.


In determining how large a setback to adopt, or how stringent building design and construction standards should be, or whether structural erosion control measures are needed, accurate hazard delineation is needed. Erosion hazards data should meet three tests: 1) Data should be realistic (tested against academic models and/or past experience); 2) Data should be available for use (not too costly to secure or too time-consuming to generate or use); 3) Data should be legally defensible. This standard does not require perfection, but it does require reasonable accuracy."


Alaska's Section 309 Assessment and Strategy in 2011 classified all of the state's risk level for all of the coastal hazard types (flooding, coastal storms, geological hazards, shoreline erosion, sea level rise and other climate change impacts, and land subsidence) as "high". Justification for these rankings includes the following:

Flood Hazards - "Most of Alaska’s communities and transportation facilities are located along large rivers and are subject to flooding. This flooding threatens life, safety and health; causes extensive property loss; and results in excess of three-quarters of million dollars annual damage to Alaskan infrastructure." (DHS&EM, 2007 p. 87)
Coastal Storms - "Storm surge is a leading cause of property damage in Alaska (DHS&EM, 2007). All coastal areas, especially the western and northern regions, are vulnerable to storm driven waves that flood communities and damaging boats; port facilities, and other private and public property. Wind-driven transport of seawater is the most important factor in coastal floods. Storm surges generally occur when a low pressure system and strong winds cause waves to build up, cresting at above normal heights. Storm surge flooding is particularly destructive when ice is transported onshore by wave action. Heavy snow, extreme temperatures, and gale force winds characterize many pacific storms coming into Alaska. Communities face damaged property, hypothermeria risk, and interrupted essential services due to these storm impacts."
Geologic Hazards - Earthquakes: "On a global level, three of the ten strongest earthquakes ever recorded occurred in Alaska. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, North America’s strongest recorded earthquake, with a moment magnitude of 9.2, rocked central Alaska. More recently there was the Denali earthquake, at 7.9, the largest in the world for 2002 and it received both state and federal disaster declarations. Each year Alaska has approximately 5,000 earthquakes, including 1,000 that measure above 3.5 on the Richter scale."Tsunamis: "The 1964 earthquake triggered several tsunamis, one major tectonic tsunami and about 20 local submarine and subaerial landslide tsunamis. The major tsunami hit between 20 and 45 minutes after the earthquake. The locally generated tsunamis struck between two and five minutes after being created and caused most of the deaths and damage, highlighting the inability of conventional tsunami warning systems to adequately protect people from locally generated tsunamis. Tsunamis caused more than 90% of the deaths related to 1964 earthquake."
Coastal Erosion: "Erosion rates can be significant, with some communities losing 10-20 feet annually. The majority of the City of Homer and adjacent areas of the coastline are under severe threat due to chronic coastal erosion. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Hawk’s Beach neighborhood faces repeated protection and hardening efforts and is a well recognized extreme erosion “case study”. Coseismic subsidence resulting from the 1964 earthquake resulted in significant erosion of the Homer Spit. Because the Pacific plate underlying the region dropped about three feet, the entire perimeter of land adjacent to Homer is eroding more rapidly. The village of Shishmaref and other Alaskan communities including Barrow, Kivalina, and Point Hope are facing the prospect of entire community relocation due to severe coastal erosion problems. In northwestern Alaska, there is an interplay between natural erosion and changing arctic conditions that may be causing dramatic mass wasting events."
Sea Level Rise & Climate Change Impact: Sea Level Rise: "Some studies suggest that global sea sea levels may rise as much as one to three feet over the next century as a possible result of climate change. Juneau’s mean tide level is expected to lower because the effects of isostatic rebound (the land rebounding from the recession of glaciers and the subsequent effects of the removal of the weight of the ice causing the land to rebound, raising its elevation relative to sea level) may outweigh those of potential sea level rise. Other areas of Alaska’s coast are not as fortunate. The greatest impact is expected to be seen along the western and North Slope coastlines (Bering Sea, Chuckchi Sea and Beaufort Sea coasts) where the general relief is low and even small amounts of sea level rise could have significant impact. As mentioned previously, several coastal zone communities – Kivalina, Shishmaref and Newtok have been considering relocation because of the continued erosion and flooding problems impacting the communities." More info.


NOAA's Section 312 Assessment in 2008 noted:

Coastal hazards in Alaska result from high seismic activity (e.g., earthquake and tsunami), flooding, erosion (from coastal storms, sea level rise, thawing permafrost), and windstorms. Most coastal Alaskan communities are at high risk of damage from at least one, and in most cases several, types of natural hazards. The evaluation team saw first hand the effects of coastal erosion on a community in Bristol Bay Borough and discussed the challenges inherent in addressing them with local district representatives. Coastal erosion can be significant and rapid, with some communities experiencing loss rates of 10-20 feet annually. Some villages along the coasts are considering relocation due to severe erosion problems. The village of Newtok is actively being relocated. Coastal hazards remain a high priority area in Alaska’s 2006 Section 309 Assessment and Strategy.


The new statewide standards for coastal hazards (11 AAC 112.210) establish the designation of natural hazards as a planning function and set the standard to which a proposed project must comply. The standard applies throughout the coastal area in those natural hazard areas designated by DNR or a coastal district. Districts may develop enforceable policies related to natural hazards and may apply those policies to activities occurring in or affecting an area designated in their district plan as a natural hazard area. This is the primary mechanism for the ACMP to address and mitigate threats from coastal hazards.

Mapping natural hazards is an essential component of this strategy, given that coastal districts need to clearly identify and designate those areas where enforceable policies apply. There are, however, many challenges to this kind of comprehensive mapping, including: the length of coastline in the State; the scarcity of baseline data to even begin to define boundaries; variability in type and severity of hazard within an area; etc. Overall, there is an important need to improve the State’s hazard mapping capacity. Improving the quality, coverage and availability of mapping is one of the ACMP’s strategies to addressing coastal hazards as described in their Section 309 Assessment. In addition, the Coastal Program identified the need to support coastal districts with their efforts to designate hazard areas and write enforceable policies to regulate development within those areas. OCRM encourages the ACMP to continue to work with state and federal agencies and coastal districts to address these information and mapping needs.


NOAA's Section 312 Assessment also discussed the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP):

Alaska received approximately $12 million in 2001 CIAP funding, of which $3.1 million went towards the CIAP Competitive Grant Program for eligible coastal districts. The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED) administered the Grant Program through a reimbursable services agreement with DNR (who received the federal funding from NOAA). This Grant Program awarded 56 grants for projects in topical areas including: habitat restoration; education and community outreach; coastal access improvements; management tools; infrastructure and public works; and erosion control and shoreline stabilization. Fifty-five of the original 56 awards were successfully completed by 2006, and the DCCED produced a comprehensive end-of-year report describing the projects and their impacts. CIAP has been a valuable source of funding for coastal districts.


The Energy Policy Act of 2005 Section 384 established a new Coastal Impact Assistance Program to be implemented by the United States Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service. The new CIAP will provide up to $250 million to oil and/or gas producing states and coastal political subdivisions for each of the fiscal years 2007 through 2010, with funds allocated based upon formulas prescribed by the Act. States have to submit new coastal impact assistance plans, which the Secretary of the Interior must approve before funds can be disbursed. Under CIAP 2005, only eight political subdivisions in the State will be eligible for assistance. Alaska’s new CIAP plan is currently available for public review.


Alaska's 2011 Section 309 Assessment and Strategy reports:

"The State of Alaska completed a state-wide All-Hazards Mitigation Plan in 2007 and is preparing for the required 3 year revision. The state mitigation plan provided the momentum to promote development of local hazard mitigation plans. Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management held a State Preparedness Conference to support mitigation plan preparation in 2009. The Alaska floodplain manager has been increasingly effective in getting communities update their floodplain maps and has been promoting the voluntary Community Rating System. The Division of Coastal and Ocean Management in state FY10 has been leading a work group in studying and promoting the resiliency approach to hazard planning in coastal management plans.
Since 2005, 56 new local all-hazards mitigation plans have been completed. An additional 35 communities are expected to reach completion by the end of 2011. Since 2006, Lake and Peninsula Borough and the City of Shishmaref have become participants in the National Flood Insurance Program and over a third of Alaska’s participating communities now have maps with effective dates of 2005 or more recent. The Natural Hazards Resiliency project observations, guidance, and recommendations from the resiliency project will be finalized the summer of 2010 and is expected to engage districts further in resiliency."


The Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DNR-DGGS) provides access to the online Guide to Geologic Hazards in Alaska, a bibliographic database with links to scanned maps and documents published by DGGS and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) containing information relevant to hazard identification in Alaska. The guide is served from DGGS’s publications database and is searchable by coastal district. The Natural hazards Resiliency Project included teleconferences and documents for information sharing and outreach about resiliency and natural hazards mitigation planning. DGGS was awarded 2009 CZM 309 Enhancement Grant funding to update the guide and make it more user friendly to coastal district planners, ACMP, and project applicants.

"No Adverse Impact" (NAI) is a relatively new hazard management principle developed by the Association of State Floodplain Managers. It attempts to ensure that the action of a property owner or community does not adversely impact properties of others, or publicly owned lands and natural resources. It is a "do no harm"-based "good neighbor policy" focusing on personal responsibility and mitigation of hazard risk for the benefit of all property owners. As a component of the Homer City Code, the NAI principle requires that “development activities shall not adversely impact other properties by causing damaging alteration of surface water drainage, surface water ponding, slope failure, erosion, siltation, intentional or inadvertent fill or root damage to neighboring trees, or other physical impacts. The property owner and developer shall take such steps, including installation of culverts or buffers, or other methods, as necessary to comply with this requirement.”

Alaskan Communities’ Rights and Resilience discusses forced migration due to climate change, which will severely challenge the resilience of communities forced to migrate as well as the capacities of local and national governments.

A recent publication is Coastal Erosion Responses for Alaska: Workshop Proceedings.

"While shoreline construction in Alaska is young and unproven, Alaskans can learn from tribulations in other parts of the world. Ten articles by coastal engineering experts, in this book, address coastal processes and trends that drive shoreline retreat and coastal erosion. Topics include non-structural coastal zone management, successfully proven constructed responses, and limitations of constructed works. Coastal managers will find the information useful in making wise decisions regarding coastal erosion responses for Alaska."


The concept of managed retreat is being implemented at the village of Newtok. The entire village will be relocated to a hilly area called Mertarvik on Nelson Island. They completed a federal land trade in 2004. The current site is continually squeezed by the Ninglick River, which has eaten an average of 70 feet of bank a year just south of the village. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, other branches of the military and the Alaska Department of Transportation began work on this project during the summer of 2009. The village relocation is a multi-year project. An October 2015 article states Alaska officials are proposing that $62.6 million of unused funds intended for Hurricane Sandy relief be used for relocation costs, including money for infrastructure and money to allow 62 families from Newtok to establish new homes at the chosen relocation site on higher ground 9 miles away. State officials also are seeking a total of $162.4 million for three other vulnerable villages — Emmonak, Galena and Teller — with extensive storm damage in recent years.

Relocation efforts are also underway for the community of Shishmaref.

A useful reference book is Living with the Coast of Alaska (Owen Mason, William J. Neal, Orrin H. Pilkey, Jane Bullock, Ted Fauthauer, Deborah Pilkey, Douglas Swanston) from Duke University Press, 1998.

Climate Change Adaptation

Introduction

Over the past 50 years, Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States, a disconcerting fact considering that much of its 365 million acres is comprised of ice and permafrost (Karl et al., 2009). In 2004 a collaboration of hundreds of scientists and indigenous peoples released the comprehensive Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). The Assessment projected increases in temperature, glacial melt, permafrost temperature, ocean acidification, and continued loss of sea ice extent and thickness in Arctic regions (ACIA 2004 and 2005). In short, Alaska is melting, exacerbating coastal erosion, threatening indigenous communities, and contributing to global sea-level rise in the process.

As one of the first places to experience the direct effects of climate change, Alaska has long been the subject of numerous sea level rise, erosion, and permafrost/sea ice change studies. Despite this early interest, the State and local communities, for the most part, have failed to comprehensively address either climate change mitigation or adaptation. Yet in recent years, rapidly eroding shores and damaging coastal storms have spurned a slew of proactive mitigation and adaptation measures. Alaska has proven especially proactive with regards to coastal erosion, a particularly serious threat to northwestern indigenous communities. Although lacking statewide shoreline setbacks, coastal building restrictions, or coastal armoring restrictions, the State has pursued an unofficial strategy of relocation (aka Managed Retreat). Extensive coastal mapping and erosion data is available for large segments of shoreline. Numerous educational documents and outreach material concerning climate change and adaptation are also available to the public and policy makers.

Unfortunately relocation comes with an expensive price tag, rendering the process extremely arduous and hampering much of its effort. And while mitigation measures are actively being employed throughout the State, it is suggested that Alaska implement more stringent and straightforward coastal development restrictions. As managed retreat will be the only future option for many of these communities, it is vital the State begin now to develop a comprehensive, substantive, and streamlined relocation strategy. Ideally this relocation strategy would be built into a larger adaptation strategy, one that moves beyond merely acknowledging climate change impacts and instead focuses directly on the implementation of specific, and effective, adaptation measures.

Climate Change

In recent years Alaska has taken substantial strides to both mitigate greenhouse gas reductions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Although these measures remain in the early stages of implementation, the State continues to centralize its climate change knowledge and policy base, thus increasing its ability to quickly and effectively enforce climate change strategies. Alaska openly acknowledges climate change, and the State Government maintains an Alaska Climate Change website.

On September 14, 2007, former Governor Sarah Palin signed Administrative Order 238, establishing the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet to advise the Governor’s office on the preparation and implementation of a comprehensive Alaska Climate Change Strategy. The Strategy was directed to include, among other efforts, building the state’s knowledge of climate change effects in Alaska, developing community resiliency to climate change impacts, and to provide guidance regarding Alaska’s participation in regional and national climate change efforts. On September 21, 2007, former Governor Palin also signed on as an 'Observer' to the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a collaboration launched in February 2007 between the Governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington to meet regional challenges raised by climate change. The Board of Directors in 2017 included representatives from California, British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario, but not Alaska.

The Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet provided the following summary of Alaska’s perspective on climate change:

“The impacts of climate warming in Alaska are already occurring. These impacts include coastal erosion, increased storm effects, sea ice retreat and permafrost melts. The villages of Shishmaref, Kivalina, and Newtok have already begun relocation plans. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified over 160 additional rural communities threatened by erosion. The unique task of the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet is to appropriately attend to these immediate needs.”


Alaska completed its Climate Action Plan in August 2009, titled Alaska Climate Change Strategy’s Mitigation Advisory Group Final Report. Additional reports published by the four Climate Change Advisory Groups include:


Homer, Alaska also has a Climate Action Plan.

Impacts

In contrast to many coastal states, Alaska’s expansive and diversified coastline is responding to climate change impacts in a highly regional context; all areas are not undergoing the same changes. In fact, a combination of recent glacier retreat and regional tectonic deformation in southeast and south central Alaska has actually resulted in land uplift greater than the projected rate of global sea level rise. In these areas, relative sea level is expected to decrease between 2.1 and 3.4 feet (Larsen et al. 2004; Kelly et al. 2007; Pyare 2009). On the other hand, increased flooding and changing storm surge and storm tracks are likely to affect communities in low-lying areas such as the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Overall in northwest Alaska, decreasing sea ice extent and resulting increased wave surge will have a greater impact on coastal erosion than will sea-level rise.

Erosion represents a major problem in Alaska’s coastal zone. A USGS quantitative analysis] published in July 2007 concluded that the rate of land loss attributed to coastal erosion more than doubled between 1985 – 2005. As of 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers further reported that 178 Alaskan communities were experiencing erosion problems. Twenty-six communities were designated “Priority Action Communities”, indicating they should be considered for immediate action by either initiating an evaluation of potential solutions or continuing with ongoing efforts to manage erosion. Fortunately, extensive erosion data already exist, and should therefore be utilized to help guide future relocation and coastal development. More information about specific climate change impacts in Alaska can be found here (from the Alaska Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Group).

Adaptation

As part of the state’s overall Climate Change Strategy, the Alaska Climate Change Adaptation Advisory Group (AAG) is responsible for developing an adaptation response plan for the Sub-Cabinet. The AAG was formed with four Technical Work Groups (TWGs) focused in the following areas: Public Infrastructure, Health & Culture, Natural Systems, Economic Activities. The final report, representing the State’s Adaptation Plan, was delivered to the Sub-Cabinet in January 2010. The AAG Executive Document included a section titled Build to Last; Build Resiliency into Alaska’s Public Infrastructure.

Despite its State Adaptation Plan, the Alaska Coastal Program currently does not have sea-level-rise policies or initiatives specific to climate change. However, in the 2001 Assessment, lack of erosion rate data and mapping of erosion prone areas had been identified as a current shortcoming that could be addressed through the Enhancement Grants Program. Additionally, numerous projects at both the state and federal level are underway to provide assistance to Alaskan coastal communities affected by climate change impacts. While there are currently no statewide setbacks, coastal development restrictions, or restrictions on rebuilding damaged structures, the State has begun to embark on a strategy of coastal community relocation. Additionally, the Alaska Coastal Program’s Natural Hazard Standard 11 AAC 112.210, 11 AAC 112.990 and 11 AAC 114.250, contains provisions preventing development in natural hazard areas.

Individual Alaskan towns have taken the State’s climate change adaption strategy one step further, with many developing their own Climate Change Adaptation Plans. In 2007 the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a Resolution committed to the development of a climate change impact plan to assess their communities’ vulnerabilities due to climate change. The resolution specifically called for development and implementation of a climate change adaptation plan.

The City of Homer also has a Climate Action Plan which specifically addresses the impacts of sea level rise. Released in December 2007, the Plan understands and recognizes the connections and interdependence between adaptation and mitigation. Included are recommendations for steps that the City of Homer can take to prepare the community for unavoidable climate change (i.e., increased coastal erosion and inundation). In addition to a number of adaptation measures, the Plan sets forth the following two goals:

  • The City of Homer will take steps to protect existing infrastructure from the impacts of climate change - Keep abreast of information regarding projected sea level rise, storm surges, coastal/bluff erosion, etc. within the city and take proactive measures to protect or relocate at-risk infrastructure.
  • The City of Homer will adopt wise policies for future development. - Enact restrictions against development on erosion-prone slopes and bluffs.


The second goal represents an especially important consideration, as development restrictions are largely absent from Alaskan coastal management policies.

A Climate Action Plan Final Report for the City of Homer was produced in 2010.

The Homer City Code also promotes the principle of No Adverse Impact, a relatively new hazard management principle developed by the Association of State Floodplain Managers. It attempts to ensure that the action of a property owner or community does not adversely impact properties of others, or publicly owned lands and natural resources.

A 2007 Administrative Order established the Immediate Action Workgroup (IAWG) to address known threats to communities caused by coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, flooding, and fires. The Commission has since released two reports. In the first report, the IAWG recommended policies to advance comprehensive integrated planning and a comprehensive statewide data collection and evaluation system. The second, Recommendations to the Governor’s Sub-Cabinet on Climate Change includes actions and policies that the IAWG recommends be implemented in 2009-2010 for communities facing imminent threats. One of the anticipated outcomes of the IAWG’s 2009 efforts was to identify the “next six” communities in need of immediate action, due to impacts from climate change phenomena. Over 150 communities of concern were identified, yet the 2009 Report noted that “not one agency had analyzed [the community’s] actions, nor responded to community needs based on climate change”. The three main policy recommendations for helping communities adapt to climate change impacts are: (1) Establish a statewide system for key data collection, analysis, monitoring and access; (2) promote improvements that use current Best Practices; (3) Build resiliency into Alaska Public infrastructure.

Sea Grant Alaska published Climate Change Adaptation Planning Manual for Alaskans and Alaskan Communities in 2010. Manual subtopics include “Eight Steps to Adaptation” and “Goals for Preparedness”. The Manual frames climate change adaptation as a necessary step in Alaska’s future, noting that not only will the changes be long-term (i.e. permanent), but that Alaska has the knowledge and capabilities to plan and adapt to these changes before the worst hits. The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program also maintains the Living on Alaska's Changing Coast website that explains climate change adaptation and provides additional adaptation links.

Sea Grant’s Strategic Plan 2009-2013 focuses on such topics as “Sustainable Coastal Development” and “Hazard Resilience in Coastal Communities”. The Plan strives to improve public safety and community resilience by providing information on coastal adaptation techniques, and in doing so enhance communities’ capabilities to plan for, mitigate, and respond to extreme events and adverse climate change effects, including storm surges, tsunamis, sea ice changes, and erosion. The strategies set forth to meet these, and other goals, can be found in the Plan.

Decision-Making for At Risk Communities in a Changing Climate, prepared by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, informs decision-makers on issues relating to climate change and uncertainty, risk management, and relocation planning.

Climate Change Planning Tools for First Nations includes the Center for Indigenous Environmental Resource's six guidebooks that ‘walk and talk’ a First Nation through the climate change planning process. They contain suggestions of how a First Nation might plan for climate change, how to involve the community, and activities that a First Nation can use to involve members of the community to set priorities and achieve them.

A two-day workshop, titled Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerabilities, and Adaptation in Northwest Alaska, was held in Kotzebue on May 24 & 25, 2006. The overall objective of the workshop was to help key stakeholders in northwest Alaska consider climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in the region, discuss the pros and cons of various adaptation strategies, and identify several potential near- and medium-term actions.

Additional Adaptation Documents


Relocation (Managed Retreat)

In many communities with severe coastal erosion issues, numerous buildings and homes have already succumbed to the sea. While protective shoreline structures are permitted, and have been utilized in emergency situations in such locations as Bethel, Dillingham, and Galena, Alaska has begun to more actively pursue a strategy of relocation. Native Alaskan villages are especially susceptible, as many reside on small barrier islands that offer little protection from the ocean’s wrath.

The 2009 Recommendations to the Governor’s Sub-Cabinet on Climate Change summarized the State’s current perspective on coastal development, stating:

“Construction standards have long been to build bigger and stronger, but building resilient structures that can be relocated may be the more important principle to successfully meet the challenges that climate change brings.”


The Recommendations also suggested development of a state policy on when to fund erosion control structures vs. when to encourage gradual relocation of a community by constructing public facilities away from erosion area.

In a 2004 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, it was reported that erosion and flooding affect 184 (86%) of 213 Alaska Native village to some degree, with a handful facing imminent relocations.

A 2004 congressional committee (H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 108-792, at 858 (2004)) directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an Alaska erosion baseline study to coordinate and plan assistance for Alaska villages with the greatest need and to provide an overall assessment on the priority of which villages should receive assistance. The final report can be found here.

Alaskan Communities’ Rights and Resilience discusses forced migration due to climate change, which will severely challenge the resilience of communities forced to migrate as well as the capacities of local and national governments.

In 2009 the GAO published a report titled Limited Progress Has Been Made on Relocating Villages Threatened by Flooding and Erosion. The Report stated:

Since 2003, federal, state, and village officials have identified 31 villages that face imminent threats. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) March 2009 Alaska Baseline Erosion Assessment identified many villages threatened by erosion, but did not assess flooding impacts. At least 12 of the 31 threatened villages have decided to relocate—in part or entirely—or to explore relocation options… [however] However, federal programs to assist threatened villages prepare for and recover from disasters and to protect and relocate them are limited and unavailable to some villages.


Currently 12 Native Alaskan villages are exploring relocation options, including Mekoryuk, Kivalina, Shishmaref, Newtok, and Shaktoolik, which are all subject to storm erosion and inundation as a result of climate change and sea level rise. A 2006 technical analysis study conducted under the Alaska Village Erosion Technical Assistance Program (AVETA) found that Kivalina, Newtok and Shishmaref are the highest priority (of the approximately 200 endangered villages) for attention. "Each has an estimated 10-15 years before erosion impacts critical infrastructure, and the cost to move each village would range from $80 million to $200 million,” says Colonel Kevin Wilson, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Alaska District. The AVETA analysis also concluded that “a single storm can now cause up to 15 feet of land to be eroded.” An October 2015 article states Alaska officials are proposing that $62.6 million of unused funds intended for Hurricane Sandy relief be used for relocation costs, including money for infrastructure and money to allow 62 families from Newtok to establish new homes at the chosen relocation site on higher ground 9 miles away. State officials also are seeking a total of $162.4 million for three other vulnerable villages — Emmonak, Galena and Teller — with extensive storm damage in recent years.

Relocation Case Studies

Located on the Ninglick Riverin in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region, the Native Alaskan village of Newtok has made the most progress in its relocation efforts. Recent erosion rates in Newtok average 90 feet per year, with the community experiencing major flooding in both September and February of 2005. Coastal erosion rates continue to be exacerbated by thawing permafrost and decreased sea ice, both of which once protected the coastal village against extreme wave action. In 1994 Newtok was one of the first villages to consider relocating to a less vulnerable site. By 2003 the village had negotiated a land exchange agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in 2006 the Newtok Planning Group was formed to help assist relocation to a new village site on Nelson Island. In 2007 IWA recommended developing a suite of emergency response plans in order to identify the most immediate and cost-effective ways to reduce the community’s vulnerability. While the village is now in the process of moving forward with plans to relocate their entire population, home construction is not expected to begin until at least 2011. In the meantime, these emergency response measures are in place to help the community cope during the interim period. In 2008, Newtok’s local hazard mitigation plan was completed; the community’s emergency operations plan and community evacuation plan is currently under development. Visit here for more information on the Newtok relocation. Also see this news article and this one. More news from August 2013.

The village of Shishmaref is also threatened by severe coastal erosion. Since the early 1970s the village has received numerous Federal and State erosion control appropriations. In 1998 the Federal government declared Shishmaref a disaster area following a storm that forced the relocation of 13 homes. In all, State and Federal funds awarded the village $1,662,788 from this disaster. An April 1998 ADOT erosion assessment estimated yearly shoreline loss between 5-15 feet. The study also concluded that 22 homes would be lost if no protection was provided, or if the homes were not moved. In 2002 the village of Shishmaref voted to relocate from its island. However, numerous problems slowed the process, including reluctance of the state and federal governments to give monetary support for vital infrastructure. Unfortunately in 2008, the community learned that the site chosen for relocation was not suitable due to permafrost issues, forcing them to begin efforts anew. Moving an entire town is not cheap. Shishmaref’s relocation, for example, is estimated to cost up to $200 million (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Relocations of other Alaskan villages carry similar estimates.

Associated Climate Change Groups

  • ACIA (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment)
  • University of Alaska ACCAP (Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy)
    Contains useful information about climate change impacts in Alaska, as well as climate change adaptation links. The ACCAP is in the midst of numerous research projects also related to climate change adaptation, more information which can be obtained using the above link.
  • Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP) is a collaborative organization linking the University of Alaska, State, Federal, local agencies and NGO’s. SNAP’s mission is to provide timely access to management-relevant scenarios of future conditions in Alaska. The primary products of the network are (1) datasets and maps projecting future conditions for selected variables, and (2) rules and models that develop these projections, based on historical conditions and trends.
  • COSEE Alaska: People, Oceans, and Climate Change is a regional center in a network, focused on weaving together traditional knowledge and western science to share place-based knowledge of ocean climate change in the north.
  • New York Times May 2009 article about glacial retreat and sea level changes in Juneau, Alaska
  • NOAA sea level trends in Alaska. Station location map, data, and tide predictions for 15 stations state-wide are available.


General Reference Documents

EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Climate Change, but was removed by the Trump administration.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The National Climate Assessment is an extensive report released through the U.S. Global Change Research Program and produced by a large team of experts with the guidance of the Federal Advisory Committee. The report is put out every few years, with the most recent one being the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the next report expected to be released in 2018-2019. It includes numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on different economic sectors and geographic regions in the U.S. An important and applicable portion of the report is the Response Strategies section, which lays out actionable ways that decision-makers ranging from the federal government to private-sector companies can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


Footnotes

  1. Chas Dense, Coastal Resource Specialist, Surfrider State of the Beach Survey response, January 2004.



State of the Beach Report: Alaska
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