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Eleven new construction projects in Diomede take teamwork and careful planning

April 2015: Diomede, Alaska

The village of Diomede is seeing a complete overhaul in the coming months. Village leadership has undertaken eleven construction and renovation projects to increase the quality of life in Diomede. Projects include a new Native grocery store, housing units, heavy equipment storage, a water storage tank, a backhaul program, a washeteria, and boardwalk repair, with water and sewer pipes running under the boardwalk.

Starting these projects involves the input of a number of different organizations from tribal leadership, to grant writers, to a plan and design crew.

Tribal coordinator Francis Ozenna described the need for these projects

“Some of the services we have now do give us hardship to make it liveable in Diomede. We still have to haul our own water. We still have honeybuckets. We still have to haul our fuel. It’s harder on the single mothers and it’s harder on the Elders here that live in Diomede. And we have the extreme cold winter and all that snow buildup. … That just makes it hard for Diomede to survive,” said Ozenna.

These projects have been in the works for months. Several were scheduled to be started or completed already, but funding and/or construction material delivery was delayed. Others, though begun, have yet to see completion. For Diomede, tardy barges bringing the construction materials are a recurring problem due to the island’s remote location and inaccessibility, as Ozenna explained.

“We’ve been, for the past three and a half years, really focused on some of our infrastructure needs. A lot of it is critical because for large infrastructure needs, we need proper transportation and if we don’t have proper transportation, for example, a small boat harbor, it’s really hard to encourage a landing craft or a barge to service Diomede. And that set us back in housing. Set us back in all the critical needs that we needed to go forward,” Ozenna said.

Now, however, village leadership has lined up most of the needed funding to go through with the first round of projects this summer. Some of the projects, such as the washateria, will be delayed until the funding can come through.

“We could possibly have between, I wanna say 12 to 14 trips designated for Diomede for this summer. We were expecting that last year, but with our projects that started late for the sixth that we’ve completed, we only had I think four barges come in from mid-August till mid-September which was good for Diomede because that was the start-up of tribal housing,” Ozenna said.

In addition, to the trouble of transportation, Ozenna notes that the city has faced other challenges such as coordinating community cooperation and raising funds. With the end budget being double the anticipated total for the housing units, she says leadership struggled to raise housing funds. Yet, the Diomede community came together to coordinate these massive projects.

“First it took the leaderships, because they need to work together to define the needs, what is the highest needs, how can they focus … to get the improvements done. And how we incorporate our progress within the community. Once a year we have a community meeting so that we’re able to cover our full fiscal activities within the tribe. … We try to have the community focus more on working together and improvements which kinda reduces the stress of some of the issues that are weighing us down in Diomede and probably could be weighing down in other villages too with critical infrastructure,” Ozenna said.

Diomede will see the result of this careful coordinating, planning and funding when the construction starts in earnest this summer.

Image at top: Aerial image of Diomede. Photo by KNOM (2015).

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