- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - President Barack Obama has turned down a request from one of Alaska’s most eroded communities for a disaster declaration.

The western Alaska village of Newtok sought the declaration to obtain funds that would have helped residents escape ongoing erosion and thawing permafrost, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported (http://bit.ly/2jE2ghW) Wednesday.

Engineers estimate the village is losing an average of 70 feet per year to the Ninglick River and predict several homes in the village will be lost this year.

Romy Cadiente, Newtok’s relocation coordinator, said the community was shocked to hear the news Wednesday that it wouldn’t be getting any funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re going to lose homes this year,” Cadiente said. “We’re going to lose our water supply this year. It is dangerous for our village. Where do we put these people?”

Erin Ward, a FEMA spokeswoman for the region, said Newtok’s request didn’t fit the requirements of a federal law that governs disaster relief.

“Based on a review of all the information available, a major disaster declaration under the Stafford Act is not appropriate to address the situation,” Ward said.

The federal money that comes along with a disaster declaration is typically designated for disasters such as hurricanes and landslides rather than the slow-moving danger of erosion.

It is unclear exactly what prevented Newtok from meeting the requirements of the Stafford Act. Ward said FEMA, as a matter of policy, does not provide details on why emergency declarations get denied.

Newtok’s attorney, Mike Walleri, had argued that federal law should not prevent the president from declaring a disaster for the village’s environmental damage, which has come in various stages over the last decade. He said Newtok residents will now have to wait until the situation gets even more dire before they can get relief.

“What this means as a practical matter is the village is going to have to wait until these homes are destroyed, rather than taking any pre-emptive disaster response,” Walleri said.

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Information from: KSKA-FM, http://www.kska.org

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