Analysis & Opinions - ArcticToday

To Relocate Alaska Villages, We Need to Reexamine the Costs

  • Michelle Xiyue Li
| Aug. 18, 2020

Harnessing technological innovations such as 3D-printed housing can help alleviate financial constraints of resettlement.

In 2018, Alaska added a new category to its State Hazard Mitigation Plan: usteq, a Yup’ik word used to describe the compounding effects of permafrost thaw, flooding, and erosion that threaten catastrophic land collapse. For many Indigenous communities, usteq imposes a critical threat to housing, public infrastructure, culturally significant locations, and the environment. In response to this phenomenon, members of the Alaska village of Shishmaref voted in 2016 to relocate their community from a barrier island to a nearby mainland site, an act which drew international media coverage. Due to a lack of financial support from the state and federal governments, however, Shishmaref has not yet successfully relocated. The estimated cost of resettlement? A staggering $180 million.

This figure has been cited in reports as recent as 2019, but it is originally from a "Shishmaref Relocation and Collocation Study" commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2004. Instead of accepting these estimates as is, we should take into account technological innovations that have emerged in the past 16 years. In particular, 3D-printed housing is one cost-saving technology that may lower logistical expenses significantly.

According to the 2004 report, relocating approximately 596 people in Shishmaref requires a combination of moving 137 existing homes and barging in 13 new homes from Anchorage or Seattle. This process costs an estimated $14 million and does not include the cost of connecting the homes to utilities. Today, a 3D-printed home can be built for around $10,000 in material costs and very little labor costs due to the automated nature of the process, making this less expensive than both moving homes and conventional construction. The current population of Shishmaref has not changed significantly from that of 2004. Building 150 new homes via 3D printing could cost a fraction of the original estimate. In total, relocation costs associated with establishing residential, commercial, industrial, and public storage buildings constitute an estimated $50 million. Where possible, construction via 3D printing would help alleviate the financial constraints of such an endeavor.

While the technology is relatively new, its application towards affordable housing would not be entirely novel....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Li, Michelle Xiyue .“To Relocate Alaska Villages, We Need to Reexamine the Costs.” ArcticToday, August 18, 2020.

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