The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – says its analysis of the state’s request for disaster assistance could be done in about another month. The Department of Commerce last week said it does not expect to respond to the request until February at the earliest.
In August, Governor Parnell requested a disaster declaration based on the low fish returns, limited openings and poor commercial and subsistence harvests in Western Alaska this year. He made a second request earlier this month.
In an e-mailed statement today (Monday) NOAA says its process requires a data analysis before making a recommendation to the Commerce Secretary.
Meanwhile, the legislator who spearheaded the first food drive that was a major part of the state’s response to the conditions in the regions effected by the economic conditions last winter says he is discouraged at the slow federal response to the problems – although he does appreciate the Governor’s getting an early start to avoiding another crisis. Fairbanks Republican Jay Ramras was able to gather and arrange air transportation of some forty thousand pounds of food to eleven villages in the region last year. And this year, he says he’s optimistic based on the number and quality of the people working on the issue.
Ultimately, this is not only a problem with fishing and subsistence, but also the cost of energy. I would encourage Gov. Parnell to send one of his special envoys and several representatives from that district out to Washington D-C and to stay there and not take No for an answer until we have accelerated this time line.
He says preventing the possibility of renewed suffering in rural Alaska is a measure of the humanity of urban Alaska. Last year, he found there was food available in the villages, but that too many people could not afford it. He compares that widespread condition to be no different from the homeless situation in any large community in the state.
An economic disaster is entirely different from a natural disaster. But we can see that it’s coming. Last year the crisis had already happened. And the opportunity for us to be proactive is preventative maintenance. Let’s take care of these communities before people are harmed – before their wills are damaged.
Ramras says the possibility of a recurrence of last year’s cry for help was his reason for introducing a bill during this year’s session authorizing non-profit organizations to use state transportation facilities to respond to public safety or health-related situations. That bill passed the House last year with no opposition and is currently in the Senate. Ramras says the governor would help its passage by showing his support for it.