Engineers plan to build a rock embankment in Shishmaref this fall to stave off erosion brought by the violent tides of the Chukchi Sea.
Shishmaref, a village of about 600 people five miles off the Seward Peninsula, suffered extensive erosion damage last October when a powerful storm sent 15-foot waves crashing onto the beach.
State planner Christy Miller of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, said the storm was so bad that a building that houses teachers for the Bering Strait School District was almost swept into the sea.
That storm alone eroded 20 to 30 feet from the coastline directly in front of the teachers' quarters, she said.
"If you walked out of the back door of this building you would literally have stepped into the Chukchi Sea," she said.
Engineers plan to build a 230-foot revetment this September to protect the school and the teachers' building, according to Dave Williams, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"A revetment is a protective layer put onto a shoreline," Williams said. "It will be at a slope along the beach to allow the waves to run up, but the rock will prevent the waves from eroding the material the beach is made of."
He said the project would cost from $1.2 million to $1.8 million. It will extend a 450-foot revetment built last year to protect an access road to the airport and village.
Williams said rock would be shipped in from a quarry at Cape Nome, about 126 miles south of Shishmaref.
"It's pretty expensive to bring rock to Shishmaref," he said. "The beach is very shallow, so it's difficult to bring in a fully laden barge up to the land."
He said the project is expected to be finished before the heavy storms start up this fall.
Erosion threatens several rural Alaska villages besides Shishmaref, and village leaders have asked the state and federal governments for money to relocate their populations.
A study released in January by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has put the cost of relocating Shishmaref at $180 million.
Chris Allard, an engineer with Summit Consulting Services in Tok who designed the existing revetment, said the barrier will not protect the village forever.
"This is a temporary measure to allow time for an orderly relocation," he said. "A revetment can slow that (erosion) down, but Shishmaref is made up of fine sand that is changing shape.
"I guess we don't really know what is going to happen in the long-term. This is not going to provide a permanent solution to the people of Shishmaref."
Miller said the city has approved a resolution to use $400,000 of a $2 million appropriation from the state in 2004 for erosion control. That is along with $1 million from the Army Corps of Engineers and $457,500 from the Bering Strait School District.
"We will use the remaining state funding to continue erosion control down the beach," Miller said.