Monday, September 7, 2009

Will it be Sean or Hugo This Winter?

I worked for Crowley Maritime decades ago. I had friends who ran the tugs and barges up the Kobuk, Kuskokwim, Yukon and other rivers this time of year, in the sometimes frantic efforts to get fuel into communities before the rivers turned hard.

Last winter the rivers hardened a bit early. Fuel ran out in a number of places. This didn't only make it hard to heat houses, it made it impossible for a lot of other things to work in communities. Water quality in the Wade Hampton census district of Alaska is worse than most parts of Costa Rica or Panama, let alone the rest of the USA. Without fuel to deal with water quality infrastructure in the winter, our citizens in the scores of Western Alaska villages are beset by a situation comparable to Zimbabwe or some forlorn area in the Amazon jungle.


Because our urban-centric state legislature and executive branch have, over the decades of statehood, pandered to the false meme that people in Alaska's bush are asking for too much when it comes to infrastructure support. Essentially, especially in the Republican Party arena, it is a racist meme. But on the Democratic Party side of dealing with providing long-term support for bush communities, the elected representatives have not been able to frame the importance of this basic issue very well.

The Alaska bush provides most of the wealth ALL Alaskans enjoy.

Certainly, some rural or wilderness areas provide more wealth to be extracted and exported than others, but we are, as Wally Hickel prickly reminds us from time to time, the "owner state."

We have a responsibility to make the relationship between the cities and the bush wholesome.

Over the past three winters, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's administration has provided more rational direct support for heating fuel costs in Alaska's bush than has our state's government. Instead, bush residents have been faced with statements by legislators, recommending they go cut firewood where none exists, or by being confronted with the prospect of an overtly anti-Native Attorney General.

Governor Crazy Woman's only effort in the Alaska bush in 2009 was to bring Bibles, beads, trinkets and cookies to outlying communities. So far, the successor Parnell administration seems to be on a better track:

• Parnell has requested a Federal disaster be declared on the Yukon River.
• Parnell appears to be assessing heating and power fuel needs for the upcoming winter.
• Parnell is answering questions about the makeup, duties and goals of administration groups supposedly dedicated to solving rural problems. The crazy woman never came close to opening a substantive dialogue.

We need to push Parnell's staff further, harder and across the board on this. Now. There is little time. We may have our first frost here at Neklason Lake in Wasilla tonight.

• Demand more quick action on the fuel inventories.
• Demand toll-free numbers for all executive department rural functions.
• Demand more public input from the huge coterie of qualified Native leaders who are too often cut out of discussions about their future.
• Demand that your legislator frame these issues creatively in the upcoming 2010 session.

That might do for starters.

image - frozen-in Crowley tug and barge. I helped perform the initial compass check in Elliot Bay on this tug, when it was brand new, in July, 1982.


Yusef Asabiyah said...

I don't necessarily think there's been a lack of spending on the bush communities, but the kind of projects receiving funding and who and how these projects ultimately benefit these communities and the state has long been questionable.

That the building and infrastructure development was not creating something sustainable was foreseeable from the beginning of most of the projects. Also, that they were costing too much for what Alaskans were getting was something an observer could have detected long ago.

If the state's involvement in the bush communities can't be handled better in the future, I won't support it, even realizing the severity of the crisis and that some of these communities will then cease to exist.

Anonymous said...

"Essentially, especially in the Republican Party arena, it is a racist meme. "

Of course it is. What else could it be ? Remember all conservatives are vile racists especially those pesky Zionists !

alaskapi said...

This is one of your best...

I disagree with my neighbor commenter here... I would prefer we demand , ALL Alaskans, better bang for our buck whether it is spent in the bush or in an urban area.
Poor oversight and/or poor project quality is NOT the fault of the receivers... nor since we/they have to live with the outcome, should we ask ourselves or our neighbors to do without but rather demand it gets done right!

An example of poor state oversight- well actually abdication of state oversight- is the waste facility recently closed down in the Wasilla area. Since we, as a state, did not make our own rules we left it up to the fed to oversee permitted facilities in this state. Given the number of facilities they oversee nationwide the years old case in Wasilla was handled relatively well... but certainly not in a timely manner nor with the kind of oversight the neighbors of the facility should have been able to expect.
A state department continued to ship waste to the facility long after the case gained steam and should certainly have been on the state's radar... as a facility NOT to do business with.
Poor project quality has long dogged efforts to build infrastructure in rural Alaska whether it be thoughtless , outmoded, or unworkable designs or built into narrowly, poorly crafted legislation.
The existence of so many diesel powered electrical plants speaks of a time when it was thought fuel would stay at a manageable cost. That paradigm bit the dust quite awhile ago and we haven't begun to address it seriously yet...
Rural Alaska cannot outvote urban Alaska... I will not ask my friends, neighbors, and relatives in the bush to beg...
Rural alaska provides for us all ..
It is our duty to return the favor.

alaskapi said...

anony @9:44-
Whatever your flap with Phil, personally, is over his views about Israel/Zionists/ etc you do this state and the barely concealed attitudea about Alaska Natives no service here with the snark-o-rama.

Whether you want to just snark or have some (very well) hidden point is unclear.

Over 20% of this state is native, much of that population lives in rural Alaska ( along with their neighbors of many other heritages).

The time has come to talk about that which is said in private by policymakers and citizens who view Alaska Native issues with disdain and false righteousness...
I hear it all the time... don't you?
When folks don't think a native is around...

Anonymous said...

Makin lemonade out of lemons... A common IDEAL in rural Alaska...

Anyway, i'd like to see some strong action on ending bycatch. Although it is a federal responsibility to regulate the wasted salmon, the state plays a huge role with Commish Denny Lloyd on the NPFMC. And to think some have said that reductions in bycatch in 2011, is a huge momumental advance in begining any sort of bycatch reduction, IS total crap (so says trawler Moller).

A moritorum on trawler fishing is needed till they can stop wasting bycatch fishing. It happen when NMFS did act on the Steller Sea Lion. It can happen again.

End salmon bycatch. NOW... make it a zero tolerance policy.

Yusef Asabiyah said...

"The time has come to talk about that which is said in private by policymakers and citizens who view Alaska Native issues with disdain and false righteousness...
I hear it all the time... don't you?
When folks don't think a native is around..."

I want to talk about it right now and I don't know who is around.

I want to know why the big lodge next to TCC, on the banks of the Chena River here in Fairbanks has been transformed into a bingo hall. Who made that decision, and why? Who ratified it? Who does it benefit?

If it turns out it benefits a few native fat cats at the expense of most, I see that as anti-progressive, whether spending on natives MIGHT BE progressive or not.

alaskapi said...

Yusef- is this what you are asking about?
I live in Southeast Alaska so I don't know your area.
I always get nervous when gambling is tied to charitable causes... here and anywhere else.

Ann Strongheart said...


Great post!! Quyana Cakneq for helping keep this issue among others in the public eye.

It greatly saddens/maddens? me to see comments promoting racism. We are all equal, we are all Americans.

I will be try to be the bigger person here and not stoop to the level of some of the obvious trolls that seem to linger at every blog. But believe me it's hard not to! LOL

But in loving memory of my Segundo, I'll keep my soap box in the cupboard today and just again say....

Quyana for a GREAT POST!!! Keep up the good work!!!

Yusef Asabiyah said...

Yes, alaskapi, that's the place. Thanks for providing the link so everyone can see pictures and read the article.

The FDNM article explains the rationale behind the conversion. I guess what I want to know is : 1)do progressives buy it? 2)if so, why?

Ann Strongheart said...

Morning AK PI,

Boy you sure are busy this morning. :-D

Keep up the good fight!

Love ya dear!!

jim said...


You have a very interesting background-- you've done so many things.

If the State has been communicating with Crowley, would Crowley have a good idea of where fuel shortages are? If they are the main supplier, seems like they'd know who isn't keeping up with resupplying. Seems like Crowley would be a good resource of information.

Philip Munger said...


anon @ 9:44 equates my criticism of SOME OF THE policies of the ethnocentric, religious heritage-restricted nation of Israel with anti-Semitism, I believe. Some people think that way. I'm free to criticize policies of Arab states without being thusly labelled, though.

"I hear it all the time... don't you?
When folks don't think a native is around..."

It is usually more subtle than that, but almost any probing article about the affairs of Alaska Natives in the ADN, for instance, gets peppered with dozens of racist screeds in the article's comment section.

Re Yusef's comment about the Fairbanks bingo hall conversion, my reference to "the huge coterie of qualified Native leaders who are too often cut out of discussions about their future" is not about the people developing that hall, or the CDQ-compromised rural infrastructure, or the establishment types dominating the Native power structures in Alaska. I mean people like Diane Benson, Larry Merculief, Myron Naneng and other visionaries.

Benson wrote a play about the corruption of certain Native leadership structures almost 20 years ago. It is brilliant, penetrating and likely to never be seen by a wide audience because the layers of truth - some presented quite humorously - are very painful.

Philip Munger said...

I said "I mean people like Diane Benson, Larry Merculief, Myron Naneng and other visionaries."

I should add Ann Strongheart! Welcome, Ann.


Three things I want to do this week are:

1) find out more about what Crowley is up to re fuel runs on the rivers.

2) Develop a tool so we can see the cumulative North Pacific and Bering Sea by-catch numbers on a weekly basis.

3) Start a pay pal account here to pay for Max Blumenthal's Anchorage trip on the 25th through 27th of this month.

Aussie Blue Sky said...

Don't forget that Parnell was right there in Palin's pocket when she exploited the disaster last winter to create and strengthen footholds for Xtian missionaries. He stood there smiling and handing out cookies like the clown he is.

And wasn't he the "head" of the "rural" subcabinet at the time?

Palin in a suit and tie.

jim said...

Aussie Blue Sky:

Nope, Parnell was never head of the Rural Subcabinet. Administrative Order 247 says who is on the subcabinet, and the Attorney General is the chair. The lieutenant governor isn't mentioned.

As an interesting side, they have refused to release rural subcabinet minutes to the public. I can see why-- Mr. Ross chaired one of the meetings. That would be a fun read.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great post!!

Finding out what the state of the rural fuel stockpile, village reserves, is probably the most important 'item' for the near few weeks, given the approach of winter.

I do know that at least one Crowley barge, that services Bristol Bay, has already returned from the Arctic area and is now fueling villages here, BB.

Not sure how many barges they have but if villages in the north do not have their fuel by now I wonder IF they will get it via barge.

The by-catch of Chinook or Chum, or for that matter any type, is of great importance. To go into the fall and winter season seeing those numbers on a weekly basis should be doable.
We report salmon catches daily as a processor and they are posted on state sites within 24 hours. To do this for pollock on a weekly basis should be doable.

Racist comments and feelings are something the entire country deals with. For us in AK to think it doesn't enter our discussions and thoughts is naive.

I agree with AK Pi, ALL AK projects need to get the most 'bang for the buck'. Cities in Alaska have had a number of failed ventures and ideas and yet no one stops supporting them. To ask villages to suffer a fate you don't enforce on the cities is wrong.

Working together we need to ALL demand that our dollars, be it state or federal, be well spent in our towns and villages. Getting monies just cause it is offered and awarded in NOT enough of a reason to do a project if it is not sustainable.

Phil, thanks again and keep us thinking on how best to frame the questions and issues of our state!!


Polarbear said...

Thank you for the focus on rural Alaska, and your appropriate reminders of where our urban wealth comes from. Well said.

One aspect of remote Alaska long missing is active, aggressive journalism, based in rural Alaska, itself. By this, I do not mean the self-serving 'exposes' of the Anchorage Daily News, who only seems to capture the salacious news which panders to racial tension and sells newspapers. No, I mean the journalism and the writing that comes from rural Alaskans writing about rural problems, like Ann Strongheart.

Just a few reads at Anonymous Bloggers, and what Public Radio used to have and has now lost in rural Alaska is very apparent. That void is now being filled by the blogosphere.

alaskapi said...

I have no clue about the bingo hall... I am merely one of many who worry about gambling being attached to charities- whether it's the Catholic church or Native non-profits. I have no idea what you mean about whether progressives buy the public explanation... Aside from the purely honest remark that I'm not even sure I'm progressive, I don't understand what you think is going on there.

Thank you for filling in the blanks on anony. Anony is making the leap all of us have to watch out for then... abandoning the core of an argument for a sideswipe .
I am a quarter Aleut but unless you know what you are looking at you wouldn't have a clue about my heritage. I hear overt racist remarks about Alaska Natives regularly...all the THEY things... THEY do this and THEY do that.

I have had, all my life, the peculiar (in the sense of wierd) experience of watching people, who don't know her, speak loudly and carefully to my mother... as if speaking to a person of diminished intelligence.
As ma managed to finish two undergraduate degrees at once, English Lit and Classical Philosophy, teach for years - from middle school to college- and return to school for a law degree in her 40s and go on to become an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alaska, it seems pretty obvious that those who behave the way I cite are pretty set on believing her skin and features tell them all they need to know...

I am finely tuned to the more subtle racism and/or class distinctions folks inject in institutionalized approaches to rural Alaska and think your point about the local Republican meme is extremely well put.

Ms Benson's work seems very difficult to find- if you have time could you point to somewhere...?

Thank you again for this well developed post... and yes, on the weekly watching bycatch idea...

and Polar Bear- do take a look at AK Dispatch... they are really trying to get more rural news out lately and doing a decent job of it so far. And do come over to AB-often. We need more ideas...always.

Anonymous said...

"I have no clue about the bingo hall... I am merely one of many who worry about gambling being attached to charities- whether it's the Catholic church or Native non-profits. I have no idea what you mean about whether progressives buy the public explanation... Aside from the purely honest remark that I'm not even sure I'm progressive, I don't understand what you think is going on there."

If you read the article you linked to you'd know about as much as anyone about the bingo hall, because that's about as much information as is publicly available.

I'm not interested in jousting with you.

The hall was built not very long ago as a convention center for public meetings and other civic events but last spring became a bingo parlor. That seems like bait and switch to me. Bingo is a form of gambling, not really a civic function. Money spent by and for the benefit of the native community switched to something which may harm the native community.

I'm sorry to have wrongly assumed I was addressing progressives but this blog is titled Progressive Alaska.


Philip Munger said...


Hang in there. I dislike gambling. I've known several gambling addicts, even a couple of bingo addicts. It is a serious addiction and shouldn't be used to support public causes and non-profits.


Diane Benson's work is hard to find because much of it remains unpublished. Back in 2005, about the time she was really starting to break as a playwright, her son was injured in Iraq, She transitioned from her rage over that to very active political campaigning, and has since late 2008 taken more time dealing directly with helping or teaching about victims of sexual abuse.

I know Diane's plays and poems well because I've started a biography of her, and she has generously made much of her unpublished material available to me for research.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your statement that most of Alaska's wealth comes from rural areas. The oil comes from the North Slope. The North Slope Borough collects a pretty good tax from it.

Are you saying that Emmonak should get the same amount of North Slope Oil money that Barrow gets?

I am trying to figure out what you really want to change.

I have tried to find ways that my home village, (I am not native alaskan, but grew up in a bush village), could develop more of a cash economy. The only thing I can see in their area that might work would be a tourist/hunter based economy. I'm not sure that would be acceptable and I'm not sure how many it would employ.

Philip Munger said...

I'm not saying the wealth from the bush should be spread equally. I'm saying that Alaskans should appreciate - especially those in the cities - where the wealth actually comes from.