The community of Kivalina has been working for decades with a variety of local, state, and federal agencies to address threats of coastal erosion and flooding. Numerous study, concept, and planning documents exist on potential solutions, which range from: erosion protection around the city; to relocation of the entire community; to a new mainland site. Options involving community relocation have been problematic, as they are neither culturally preferable nor fiscally practical in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, Kivalina has turned to a locally approved approach of facilitating a safe, reliable, and direct means of community evacuation to an acceptable mainland location on K-Hill.
The proposed road project origin would be at the City of Kivalina, which lies within the Kotzebue Recording District and is located in Section 21, Township 27 N, Range 26 W, of the Kateel River Meridian. The project terminus at K-Hill is located in Section 19, Township 28N, Range 25W, of the Kateel River Meridian. The feasibility of several potential route alignments were evaluated within a project study area encompassing Kivalina Island, the southern portion of Kivalina Lagoon, and the lower Wulik and Kivalina River drainages in Townships 27N and 28N, Ranges 25W, 26W and 27W of the Kateel River Meridian.
The Kivalina Evacuation and School Site Access Road project would provide Kivalina residents a safe and reliable evacuation route in the event of a catastrophic storm or ocean surge, allowing evacuees to temporarily mobilize to safe refuge at an assembly site on K-Hill. This site is also identified by the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, and approved by the community, as a preferred new location for the community school. While school construction is remote and speculative, if constructed within the vicinity of the project terminus, the school could augment the undeveloped evacuation site by serving as a full-service community emergency shelter with all-season support capabilities.
Recent climate data has indicated that arctic sea ice is forming later in the season, increasing fall and winter storm duration and intensity along the Northwest Arctic coast (Simmonds and Keay 2009; Screen et al. 2013). Consequently, residents of Kivalina face significant and increasing risks to life, health, and safety by storm systems predicted to further intensify over time (Brubaker et al. 2010). The need for a concerted effort to mitigate these risks became more evident during an evacuation event in October 2007, when debris-laden storm waves overtopped the barrier island. The event resulted in the need for helicopters to carry evacuees off the island, and illustrated that Kivalina currently has no safe method of evacuation in the event of a catastrophic storm surge. In the face of this increased threat, Kivalina needs a safe and reliable means of evacuation.
- Establishment of a safe, reliable, all-season Kivalina Lagoon crossing during evacuation mobilization.
- Concepts previously studied for their feasibility include construction of an earthen causeway across the lagoon that variously incorporates hydraulic and boat passage options including bridge(s), culvert(s), or both.
- Construction of an all-season gravel access road between Kivalina Island and the desired K-Hill evacuation site.
- The road would be designed to accommodate both general purpose and emergency evacuation vehicles over a two-way road with shoulders, multiple turnouts, and safe side slopes that include guard rails or other safety features as required.
- Over the last decade, Kivalina and the NAB have evaluated the feasibility of numerous local road routings that could potentially provide for evacuation, school access, or material site development. Evacuation routes considered to date by Kivalina and the NAB have included:
- An alignment referred to as a Northern Route approximately 9.1 miles in length that would originate at the south end of the Kivalina Airport runway, parallel the runway on its east side northward for approximately 1.5 miles, cross the lagoon eastward via a causeway and/or bridge, and follow high ground between the Wulik and Kivalina Rivers to its terminus at K-Hill.
- An alignment considered a Southern Route approximately 6.9 miles in length that would begin at the south end of the Kivalina Airport runway, immediately cross the lagoon eastward via a causeway and/or bridge, and follow lowlands and relic channels of the Wulik River to K-Hill.
- A Combined Route approximately 8.6 miles in length that would follow the Northern route before merging with the Southern route via a one-mile long connecting segment.
- Identification of Material Sources: Although project materials would be specified as contractor furnished and development of material sources would not be included in the Proposed Action, analyses of material locations proximate to potential routes would be conducted to determine their feasibility and evaluate environmental impacts of their development. Four locations in the project study area known to contain potentially viable project materials, and currently being evaluated by Kivalina and the NAB, include:
- K-Hill: K- Hill geology is characterized by exposed limestone and rock rubble at the ground surface. It is anticipated that below the surface, larger frost-fractured rocks and boulders may also exist.
- Wulik River Deposition Zone: The Wulik River Deposition Zone is characterized by visible gravel bars and beaches along the river banks that would contain suitable materials to construct the proposed project.
- Wulik River Relic Channel: The Wulik River Relict Channel is characterized by visible gravel and sand at the ground surface. The fluvial material in these areas was likely deposited when the Wulik River was located north of its present location.
- Kivalina River Deposition Zone: The Kivalina River is also being evaluated for potential material sources due to the areas visible on gravel bars and beaches that appear to contain suitable material.