Unalakleet focused its Community Planning Grant on the Foothills Master Plan and Subdivision Design Project. Unalakleet plans to direct community development away from areas of the community vulnerable to erosion, flooding and storm surge to higher ground by migrating new development to the proposed Foothills Subdivision.
Unalakleet is located on Norton Sound at the mouth of the Unalakleet River, 148 miles southeast of Nome and 395 miles northwest of Anchorage. The history of Unalakleet can be traced back as far as 200 B.C. (or further) when the indigenous peoples of interior Alaska and the coastal areas of the Bering Sea shared trading. During these times, the Kaltag Portage was a vital throughway from the coast to the interior. In more recent written recorded history, references to Unalakleet date back as early as 1830 when missionaries introduced themselves to the local population. In the late 1880s, school structures were built and the genesis of a town was born where “The place where the east wind blows.”
In the early 1900s, the placement of the townsite along the confluence of the Unalakleet River and Norton Sound was a prime location for various reasons. Today, the community has a history of diverse cultures and trade activity. The local economy is the most active in Norton Sound, along with a traditional Unaligmiut Eskimo subsistence lifestyle. Fish, seal, caribou, moose, and bear are utilized.
Unalakleet experiences both coastal and river flooding, which, when combined with shoreline erosion, have created an access problem at the harbor. Eroded land has piled up at the harbor mouth, creating six distinct sandbars. These sandbars pose a serious problem for barge passage; barges and fishing boats must wait for high tide to reach the harbor, delaying the delivery of bulk goods, fuel, and other items, which increases the costs of the cargo and moorage. The sandbars also pose a risk to those whose boats get stuck at low tide and who must simply sit and wait for a high tide. Unalakleet serves as a subregional hub for several nearby villages that rely on the harbor and fish processing plant for conducting their commercial fishing businesses.
In 2003, a three-year series of extreme storms took place, the frequency and magnitude of which had not been experienced before in recent history. During severe storms, combined with the fetch of Norton Sound, resulting waves can easily top the shoreline and flood the streets and alleys of Unalakleet. The recently observed lack of sea ice has also increased the severity of surf associated with fall and winter storms.
The Corps of Engineers and the State of Alaska have sponsored shoreline protection projects to minimize the rate of erosion along the shoreline in the form of rip-rap and gabion baskets. These efforts are temporary measures to reduce the rate of erosion. The gabion baskets installed by the State are already failing after only nine years in service. To “permanently” fix this problematic situation, the citizens of Unalakleet have decided to relocate the community to higher ground.
For reasons of safety, economy, and community longevity, the City has decided to relocate to a new Foothills Subdivision and Townsite. To facilitate this relocation, the City developed the Foothills Master Plan which lays out present and future capital investments and expenditures for relocation for the orderly and phased development of this new subdivision.
The Foothills Subdivision, where Unalakleet's future development will be directed. Photo: Sally Russell Cox
City of Unalakleet
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development