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Quinhagak Begins To Look At Climate Change

Katie Basile

Like many coastal communities in Alaska, Quinhagak is keeping a close eye on how warmer temperatures are affecting the community. Located with the ocean in front of it, and two rivers and a swamp on the other sides, Quinhagak is assessing the hazards, everything from sea water rise to increased river erosion and permafrost melt.

Tribal Administrator Ferdinand Cleveland Jr. has put up a camera and pounded stakes into the beach to measure the rise of the ocean level. So far, he says, sea water levels have not been bad because there have not been any major storm surges since the system was put in place last year.

The community is also in the process of getting a pre-assessment from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Engineers from ANTHC were in Quinhagak last month. The tribe’s natural resource director, Jackie Cleveland, took them around. They looked at several buildings that are tilting, and some that even have cracks where you can see daylight through the wall.

“The structure is not that great anymore because the permafrost siphons are not working anymore,” said Cleveland. “It’s too warm under the ground, so these siphons are not working anymore. So the buildings are shifting a lot.”

Before they left, ANTHC engineers shared a list of five buildings that are most threatened by erosion and permafrost melt. They include Quinhagak’s Head Start building, the water treatment plant, and the village’s multipurpose building, which houses offices for both the tribe and city, as well as the laundromat and the village clinic. ANTHC plans to measure the high water later this spring and report back to Quinhagak on the issues they find next month.