Teller may move to higher ground
This summer, Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority began investigating a new subdivision site across from the airport in Teller for 40 houses — some newly built, some relocated —away from flood threatened areas.
The new subdivision design includes wider streets and driveways, electricity distribution, street lighting and eventually water and sewer for residents.
The project is being designed, engineered and constructed by the Teller Environmental Adaptation and Mitigation, referred to as TEAM housing project.
TEAM is made up of BSRHA, Kawerak Transportation Department, Kawerak Community Planning and Development, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium as well as Teller entities like the Traditional Council and Native Corporation, according to Program Administrator at BSRHA Walter Rose, who is leading the project.
The project was conceptualized in spring 2022 when CEO of BSRHA Jolene Lyon and a team went to Teller to scope out areas where new homes could be built. Through the Indian Housing Block Grant, the Native Tribe of Teller had enough grant money to construct four new homes. While visiting, Lyon and team observed the subdivision of Coyote Creek, also known as New Site, being overcrowded with narrowly built streets. “If you open your window, you can probably reach out and touch the house next door,” Lyon said.
BSRHA asked the tribal council where they wanted to build the four new homes. The council proposed a gravel site uphill, across from the airport. Teller townsite is in a flood zone, making it at risk for current homes and unsafe to build on. An environmental review done by BSRHA showed another option, above Coyote Creek, which is susceptible to permafrost and steep ground, making that area risky and expensive to build on.
“We looked at the gravel site and thought who’s gonna want to live in four homes that far out of town?” said Rose. “So it just made sense to me and Jolene [Lyon] that we could do something bigger.”
Lyon said she was very adamant about not picking up a community and moving them far from their townsite, and that the proposed site would be the closest, most viable land to build on and have longevity.
The TEAM project aims to construct eight new homes and move 32 existing homes from at-risk locations in Teller to the proposed site. The land of the proposed new subdivision is owned by the Teller Native Corporation and is located about one mile south of the Coyote Creek Subdivision, two and a half miles from the Teller town site.
The total cost of the TEAM housing project is estimated at $8,158,000. The Indian Housing Block Grant will cover $3,058,000 and the remaining $5,100,000 is intended to come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Project Funding Grant. The request to release funds stated the money is to prepare the location for construction, construct eight homes in the location and relocate 32 existing homes to the location.
TEAM is moving productively through the approval process, according to Rose. So far, a tribal resolution has been passed supporting the project. The Teller Native Corporation has granted BSRHA site access and the program is currently going through its final stage of environmental review. Once the review is approved, the funds will be released for the IHB Grant. A request for release of funding has been applied for the HUD grant as well.
In the 2023 Teller Traditional Council Tribal Hazard Mitigation Plan the TEAM project is the number one priority.
Drawbacks to the move include the distance between the new location and necessary buildings like the school, store and clinic, all still at the old Teller site. Rose said the bigger subdivision justifies things like a bus service and trash service between the new location and the rest of Teller.
“We are very cognizant of the integrity of the original community and we want it to be accessible for the members,” said Lyon.
In the latest conceptual layout, four lots have been allocated to the Teller Native Corporation.
There is also intention to incorporate piped water and sewer in the new subdivision, something Teller doesn’t have, but it would come later, after the houses have already been built and moved to the new site.
“Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium needs to see a development in progress before they’re going to invest in going forward with water and sewer,” said Lyon.
ANTHC contracted Bristol Engineering to conduct a preliminary engineering report for Teller’s water and sewer system. Bristol came up with two options, both creating new water treatment plants and sewage lagoons. One of the proposals has ANTHC’s project laying pipes next to the new subdivision site. If that plan is followed, TEAM will be able to hook into their water system. However, Rose said, the TEAM project isn’t dependent on ANTHC’s plan or timeline.
“One way or another, we’re gonna have piped water and sewer,” said Rose.
Teller community member and former mayor, Joe Garnie shared his thoughts on the move with the Nugget. “This town has had the promise of water and sewer one too many times,” said Garnie. “It’s gonna be hard to convince people to move before it’s [water and sewer] there,”.
When asked about how the project will encourage people to move Rose said, “The important thing is we aren’t forcing anybody to move, it’s voluntary.”
This winter BSRHA will be talking to community members gauging who is interested in the move.
According to BSRHA, the TEAM housing project is moving forward with the support of Teller Native Corporation, Teller Traditional Council and Teller’s city government. At the time of print, none of the entities were able to speak with the Nugget.
Next steps for the TEAM project are underway. In late July BSRHA did geotechnical drilling at the site of the proposed subdivision. The samples taken will be sent out and analyzed to determine soil quality.
BSRHA sent out a request for proposal to place gravel at the new site but due to it being so late in the 2023 construction season, foundation construction may occur next year. A new request for proposal will be issued then.
According to Rose and Lyon construction and movement of homes won’t take place until at least summer of 2025.