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Brice Inc. Assists in Newtok Village Move
New quarry provides local jobs and material for other construction projects in YK villages
Storyknife, Sept./Oct. 2019 edition
One of the challenges of living in a river delta is finding good rock to provide a solid foundation for buildings, roads and airports.
The struggle is real if you are building a new community from scratch.
With support from many organizations and agencies, more than 100 residents of Newtok this fall are beginning the historic process of moving nine miles southeast to Mertarvik, which translates to “place to get water” in Yup’ik.
Mertarvik also turns out to be a good place to get rock—for homes, roads and everything else.
The source is a new quarry on nearby Calista Corporation subsurface and Newtok Native Corporation surface lands, operated by Calista subsidiary Brice Inc.
The quarry is a boon for Newtok’s relocation because otherwise construction materials would have to be barged in at greater cost.
It’s also an economic engine, providing some local jobs and the opportunity to provide construction-grade material for other important projects in Southwest Alaska villages.
Last year, Brice Inc. brought a crushing plant and drill to Mertarvik and began churning out gravel for building pads, roads and other local infrastructure.
“It’s a small crew out there but we’ve had local hire from the get-go. We’ve received tremendous support from the Newtok community,” says Paul Walsh, project manager for Brice Inc.
FINDING SOLID GROUND
Of multiple communities in western Alaska considering relocation due to increased flooding, erosion and permafrost melt, Newtok is the farthest along.
Newtok Village Council Tribal Administrator Andrew John says the community decided “as one” to move to Mertarvik because it is on solid ground. It wasn’t their first choice—other sites had stronger ancestral ties for village families. John says the deciding factor was “thinking about our future, our children and their children.”
In fact, the community’s enterprising spirit has made it a model for adapting to global climate change.
John is proud of the work that Brice is doing. “Every night, I can see that light, 10 miles up the hill in the quarry. Those boys are turning and burning. If I can see it, everybody else can see it too.”
The pace of the work is critical because erosion and flooding are becoming more dire in Newtok, with multiple homes at risk right now.
“We’re trying to get people out of there as quick as possible. One structure fell off its foundation and at least seven are ready to fall,” said Tribal Relocation Coordinator Romy Cadiente, in late August.
A BIG MOVE
Work ramped up at the Mertarvik quarry this summer. Brice produced gravel pads for 13 homes being built this fall. Seven houses were built previously but not occupied due to the significant amount of community infrastructure needing completion.
If all goes as planned, 129 people including 36 students will move by boat to Mertarvik this fall.
The tribe has applied for permission for classes to be taught in the Mertarvik evacuation center—built to provide shelter to Newtok residents in case of catastrophe.
“We’re doing everything we can to make the transition as fluid as possible,” Cadiente said.
“Every night, I can see that light, 10 miles up the hill in the quarry. Those boys are turning and burning. If I can see it, everybody else can see it too.” — Andrew John, Newtok Tribal Administrator
Brice has contracts with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and Newtok Village Council for various projects underway in Mertarvik, as well as material sales and surface use agreements with various entities, including Calista and Newtok Native Corporation.
In addition to reducing construction costs, the quarry provides revenues to the surface owner Newtok Native Corporation. Calista pays the village corporation for disturbance and access to its lands during the extraction of material.
“The quarry is a fantastic site that we’re hoping to utilize for other projects in the region,” said Walsh, Brice’s project manager.
One such project is already underway. This summer, Brice was the successful bidder on a two-year Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities project to repair the Toksook Bay airport runway. Brice plans to barge in rock from Mertarvik.
This takes the benefits of the quarry to the next level. If the rock for the Toksook Bay airport had to be shipped from the next closest quarry, it might have doubled the material costs for the government-funded project.
“We are challenged bringing material to just about every project in the region,” says Luther Brice, Brice Inc. President. “What it boils down to is there is a lot of material in Western Alaska, but a lot of it doesn’t meet the specifications required to build the project.”
Brice Inc. is an important part of the team that is building the village, according to Cadiente.
“They are dedicated people willing to go the extra mile, and they understand we need to move as quickly as possible.”