Newtok’s request for disaster funding blocked

  • By The Associated Press
  • Saturday, October 21, 2017 9:09pm
  • NewsLocal News

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska agency has refused to submit an application for federal disaster funding by the riverside village of Newtok where erosion is threatening the destruction of several buildings.

Leaders of the western Alaska village had planned to use the grant money to buy out more than a dozen at-risk homes. But the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management ruled that their application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency was incomplete, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported on Friday.

Mike O’Hare, director of the state agency, said the village’s application was missing key elements, and the agency did not have time to address the issues. The agency would have been required return the money to FEMA if it did not meet the August deadline, so they directed the funding to communities with completed applications.

“We’re all frustrated; we all want them to succeed,” O’Hare said. “But we have bureaucratic requirements that we have to fulfill. Otherwise we’re being irresponsible with the people’s money.”

Mike Walleri, a lawyer for Newtok, said the action surprised the community, and they believe the agency has abdicated responsibility in the matter.

“We believe that was basically bureaucratic subversion of the plan,” Walleri said. “And we think that essentially Homeland Security is attempting to abandon the village.”

The governor’s office has since intervened, and the Newtok Village Council on Thursday met with Scott Kendall, the governor’s chief of staff, and Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummell, who oversees the state Division of Homeland Security.

The state officials proposed that Alaska National Guard units move temporary barracks from a military base to the new village site in order to provide housing. The officials also agreed to explore other options to acquire funding.

Walleri said O’Hare has apologized to the village on behalf of the state agency.

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