Money in hand, Denali Commission looks where to spend

Water and sewer systems in communities across Alaska are threatened by flooding and erosion due to climate change. Shown here is the village of Kivalina located on a barrier island in Northwest Alaska that's facing inundation. Joaqlin Estus KNBA
The village of Kivalina is one of several Alaska locales threatened by eroding coastlines and rising sea levels. APRN file photo: Joaqlin Estus KNBA

The profile of the Denali Commission was elevated earlier this month, after President Obama announced during his visit to Alaska that the commission would coordinate the flow of resources to communities threatened by erosion, flooding and permafrost melt.

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The president also announced that the Denali Commission would receive $2 million to begin planning and coordination efforts.

With the money in hand and needing to be allocated by September 30th, the Commission is trying to figure out its next steps. At a public meeting and teleconference on Tuesday, Bob Glascott with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggested that updating existing databases would be helpful, since the most recent information about communities threatened by erosion comes from 2009, and flood maps on file are often more than 40 years old.

“Go out and talk to these communities, find out historically where the impacts have been, look at high water marks in these communities and survey them in – some sort of scope that would allow us to prioritize and figure out, if you have to make a list, and say ‘this is the number one community today with this snapshot’, and kind of go from there.”

Commissioner Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said the Denali Commission needs internal reforms before it can expand to fulfil its new role as the lead agency directing responses to climate change in Alaska. That includes reinstating a 5 percent cap on the administrative fee that the Denali Commission takes out of any incoming grant money.

“Our number one thing that we could be doing better at the Denali Commission is keeping that cap and keeping accountability on that. When that exploded and increased on that, it really weakened our argument for having resources flow through the Denali Commission.”

Kitka also argued for a greater decision-making role for commissioners.

The next scheduled meeting of the Denali Commission is in November.