Frustration and anger of rural Alaskans at a legislative meeting in Bethel this week were directed at the Department of Fish and Game for its management of subsistence and commercial fisheries in Western Alaska this year that saw few openings in either category. But the critics only touched one concern people have.
The success of fisheries effects the entire economic structure of rural life. And last year’s disastrous harvests led to the stories from people during the winter who had to choose between paying for food or fuel in the coldest part of the year.
Help came slowly from the state government, faster from non-profit organizations and from churches.
Ann Strongheart, of Nunamicqua (noo-nah-MICK-wah), says the state hasn’t yet corrected the problems people reported then. There has been an attempt to enroll new people for various programs, but in effect, she says there is nothing that wasn’t available last year.
The warning signs have been there. I mean, after what happened last year, and all the food drives and the food drops and the donations that had to come in and all the emergency things that had to happen, I’m sorry, but if I had been in a position of an elected official, I would have been going, Whoa, I don’t want that to happen on my watch next year. We need to make certain that this is not going to happen again. You know, these are the people that elected me, or whatever. And we need to make certain that they’re taken care of, you know.
Following this year’s fishing season, fuel for heating, cooking and transportation has risen to the top of rural concerns for residents. The Division of Community and Regional Affairs – through its Fuel Watch program – has been tracking deliveries and financing of supplies to rural communities, village councils and schools off the road system. They report that eighty five percent of those entities are stocked up for winter. And for the rest of them, according to this week’s Fuel Watch report, the state is making attempts to resolve supply problems. For example, air deliveries have begun in McGrath and Tokotna, while barges are making fuel deliveries in Togiak and Tununak.
And lack of money is not getting in the way at the state level – Bulk Fuel loans are being granted for several places. Strongheart has become an advocate for rural Alaska through Anonymous Bloggers – dot- com. She’s still concerned about what might happen this winter. She says delivery to a bulk fuel supplier does not put fuel in peoples’ homes.
That’s fine and dandy. But how are we guaranteeing that people with the disastrous commercial fishing this year on the Yukon – how are we going to make certain that the people have the money to buy the fuel.
In many communities, the only bright spot comes from their electrical supply. All fifty three members of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative have received the fuel they ordered back in April, and they have what they anticipate needing for this year. AVEC President and C-E-O Meera Kohler says, however, that electric service is expensive – with rates now averaging sixty two cents a kilowatt. She anticipates a decrease of about fifteen cents because of lower fuel prices this year and its effect on the Power Cost Equalization formula.