Mertarvik relocation project ramps up as ANTHC staff visit Newtok | Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Mertarvik relocation project ramps up as ANTHC staff visit Newtok

June 9, 2017

A team of ANTHC staff recently visited the southwest Alaska village of Newtok, which is in the process of moving nine miles downriver to Nelson Island and a new village site, Mertarvik. The move will help ensure the sustainability and safety of the community, which currently faces frequent storm-driven erosion.

Staff from various departments completed a multipurpose site visit, serving ANTHC’s commitment to a holistic approach to community planning, infrastructure design and providing health services to the people of Newtok.

“The trip illustrates the cross-division cooperation and collaboration at ANTHC to support the people of Newtok,” ANTHC Senior Project Manager Gavin Dixon said. “This project highlights multiple avenues to advance ANTHC’s vision that Alaska Native people are the healthiest people in the world.”

Project management staff from ANTHC Environmental Health and Engineering engaged community members and reviewed the Mertarvik community layout plan. Staff conducted more than 45 interview questionnaires with community members, serving to inform development of the community layout plan.

ANTHC staff participated in two council meetings to refine the community layout plan with the Newtok Village Council. In partnership with the Newtok Village Council, a public meeting – with more than 150 in attendance – was held to share progress and expand involvement in the development of the community layout plan, provide training on indoor air quality, and update the community on upcoming construction efforts in Mertarvik.

The community of Newtok’s relocation efforts are moving forward. The assembly of a construction camp, development of the Mertarvik rock quarry, a two-mile road to the quarry and construction of four houses is already underway.

“ANTHC plans to present a final community layout plan to the community of Newtok in June,” Dixon said. “The Mertarvik Layout Plan will be approved by the community and the Newtok Village Council will sign a resolution adopting the plan, which will be the community based guide for development of Mertarvik for years to come.”

ANTHC will continue to work with Newtok to develop a base map for the community, conduct geotechnical investigation of the Mertarvik town site, and undergo preliminary engineering analysis for opportunities for water, sewer and solid waste services in the new community.

While in Newtok, staff from ANTHC’s Environmental Health and Engineering utility support worked side by side with, and provided training to, Newtok’s water treatment operator on a variety of the water plant functions. They began to implement energy efficiency improvements to the Newtok water treatment plant, and the development of a material take-off and site inspection for improvements to the community water source and treatment system. Both projects are expected to be completed in the fall of 2017. The team also evaluated potential improvements to the facility to repair the sewer discharge line and restore washeteria services, potential projects to serve to improve health outcomes in Newtok while the community works to relocate.

Following a previous trip to Newtok conducting healthy homes assessments, the ANTHC Healthy Homes program determined the community could benefit from Air Matters Toolkits, an in-home air quality assessment kit, and training. On this visit, the program distributed toolkits and provided training to 58 homes.

Poor indoor air quality is directly linked to respiratory issues. The Healthy Homes program’s goal in Newtok is to provide residents the tools to promote good indoor air quality with the aim of less respiratory illness and healthier indoor environments prior to community members moving to the new location.

Finally, ANTHC Marketing and Communications provided support to document the project through video and photos. The crew also filmed scenes for a public service announcement detailing the importance of hand washing and how to properly refresh washbasins in rural Alaska.

The collaboration across ANTHC divisions with the Newtok Village Council is a model for a multifaceted approach to improving the health of Newtok today while simultaneously planning for a healthy future in Mertarvik.

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