Plans for Old Harbor’s tsunami evacuation center moving along with federal funding boost

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The Kodiak community of Old Harbor received $1.5 million for a new tsunami evacuation and community center last month through the omnibus spending bill and is working on applying for more. Most of Old Harbor lies along the water’s edge, and that means it’s in an inundation zone should a tsunami strike the southeast part of Kodiak Island. 

Lepani Nadore is the tribal administrator for the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, and he helps oversee the village’s emergency services.   

“We literally go downtown, go door to door, try to make sure people are aware that there is a tsunami alert and pretty much sound the siren downtown and try to encourage people to head on up the landfill road,” said Nadore.

Old Harbor’s landfill is about 200 feet above the village and out of the tsunami inundation zone, but once people get there, they have to wait in their cars until the threat is over. In the winter, residents might spend hours shivering in their vehicles – turning them on and off for heat – waiting for the all clear siren.

There are about 200 year-round residents though the population can triple during the summer fishing season, and a permanent tsunami shelter would give people in town a safe haven. It’s also a critical part of Old Harbor’s emergency management – especially if the big one hit.

“If all of our infrastructure is wiped out, the community needs a safe place to hold up, especially if the Coast Guard can’t get us in time,” said Nadore.

Kodiak Island received nearly $13 million through the federal spending package, and the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, City of Old Harbor and the Old Harbor Native Corporation worked with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office to secure $1.5 million in funding for a new evacuation center for the village. The total project is expected to cost around $7 million. 

Nadore said the plan is to build the tsunami shelter first, and then build the adjacent community center – and with federal infrastructure money floating around, it’s good timing to apply for more. The tribe is in the final phases of completing a design for the new building, and according to Nadore, they hope to have it out to bid in the coming months. 

“It’s brought a lot of hope to our community because the community members have always talked about it and it’s looking like it’s going to be happening and we look forward to what the future holds,” said Nadore.

Loyd Ashouwak is president of the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, and he said there’s palpable excitement in the village that the project is moving along.

“We’re just so happy to have this opportunity,” said Ashouwak. “Talking to everybody, they just can’t believe this is happening.”

If all goes according to plan, Nadore said they could break ground as early as this fall.

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