Thursday, October 2, 2008

Begich and Comeau make sure Palin knows this is an emergency

I first saw this bit of news in the public newsletter I receive from the Mayor's office.) I don't know how familiar non-Alaskans are with our Anchorage Mayor, but Mark Begich is currently running against LONG time Sen. Ted Stevens for U.S. Senate.)

There has been a bit in the news - as well as my blog - about the migration and extremely high fuel costs of the Alaskans villages (Bush). Basically, think about the highest price you would ever pay, and then triple it. People have been leaving the villages in droves, because they just can't afford it. Teens moving in by themselves, now homeless, because they can't afford to live in the village. Most of this population is Alaska Native.

Even more recently, I was trying to report on a small village in Alaska, Adak, in which the residents were flat out being told to leave. They had run out of cash to pay for their fuel, and were going dark. Few, including our governor, seemed to be paying much (or any) attention to this story. I am still having something of a time trying to find out information, but from what I hear there has been a temporary agreement - including the corporation supplying the fuel requesting the mayor step down for the town to receive it - and they have electricity temporarily.

In any case, not a small problem. Begich and Comeau (Anchorage's school superintendent) have released a letter sent to Gov. Palin addressing the issues of out migration from the villages, and some of the problems this is creating. From the mayor's newsletter:

Anchorage Officials Call for Action to Help Rural Communities.

With numerous indications of a migration from rural to urban Alaska underway, Mayor Mark Begich and Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau are urging the governor to form an emergency task force. In a letter to Gov. Sarah Palin today, the two say deteriorating economic conditions in many rural villages are forcing families to move to Alaska’s cities. “A prosperous, culturally diverse Alaska depends on both flourishing villages and thriving cities, so we cannot stand by and tolerate the deterioration of rural Alaska,” they write. Comeau says Anchorage school district enrollment from rural communities is increasing as village families are hard-hit with $2,000 monthly home heating bills. Begich and Comeau say they want to work on an emergency task force with other local, state and federal officials.

I agree so heartily with the stress that THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. The $1,200 has not done much for rural families (as was argued about before Palin pushed for this stop gap) and this is something that cannot take a theoretical or casual approach. People, families, lives are in need right now.

Anchorage Daily News article about the letter, and some of the migration issues.

ADN provided the pdf copy of the letter.

Letter to Gov. Palin from Mayor Begich and School Superintendent Comeau

A bit from the letter -

Dear Governor Palin:

We write to express our deep concern over what appears to be an unfortunate realignment underway in our state where challenging conditions in many rural communities are forcing a migration to urban cities. A prosperous, culturally diverse Alaska depends on both flourishing villages and thriving cities, so we cannot stand by and tolerate the deterioration of rural Alaska.

As you know, Alaska’s rural communities are facing school closings, record high energy prices, lack of economic opportunities and public health and safety concerns, which are resulting in an unprecedented out-migration to urban centers. We urge your administration to form an emergency task force with local, state and federal officials to take immediate steps to stem this trend taking place in our state. We would like to participate on this task force.

Certainly, the recent distribution of Resource Rebate and Permanent Fund Dividends checks may help in the short term. But we fear we are seeing only the first wave of families leaving rural Alaska because they cannot cover the record energy and food costs they face this winter. ...rural communities pay about 40 percent of their annual income on home energy use, compared to just 4 percent in Anchorage... Today, fuel oil prices in some remote villages have reached $11 a gallon, forcing some families to pay more than $2,000 a month to heat their homes. High fuel prices also make travel to subsistence hunting and fishing grounds prohibitive while also raising commercial food prices...

(the highlighting is mine)

There was also an interesting opinion piece in the ADN following the news piece. It talks about what needs to be done in Anchorage right now to address the influx, and that the real emergency is here in Anchorage with the people coming in.

My vote? Both. And I think that's some of the point. I do know there have been efforts to address the people moving in, including literature as resources, a "guide" to Anchorage specifically for rural migrators, the new charter school is geared around introducing a lot of rural students to a big city school, and so many of the Native-based non-profits have been hitting this pretty big in the last few years. I also know there have been efforts to address some of the migration, but I think before it's not been in quite such an urgent voice, probably because it hasn't happened quite this rapidly - the migration I mean.

Opinion in ADN about the Begich/Comeau letter

Why would anyone except the people this directly affects care about what is happening in some remote villages in Alaska? Because this is happening in your country, in a modern world. Because although now it is only people you can't imagine having their lives upturned, literally moving from places some families have lived for millenia - all because of the state of our economy - it is an indication of things to come for everyone else.


Maia said...

Keep blowing the whistle on this. People need to realize the "energy expert" can't keep her own state energized.

I managed to slip it into the Minnesota Independent article about Alaska women bloggers.

The Momster said...

I suggest Alaskans go the the governor's web site at and ask her what she's doing about the situation. I asked about Adak a week ago and haven't heard a word in reply....

Maia said...

The Washington Independent has a short piece on Adak and rural energy issues — word is getting out slowly.

SweetCandy said...

What gets me is that anyone is considered a Native after only living in Alaska for two years. A friend of mine got married and now that he has lived there for two years, he is entitled to get the same money that the Native Alaskan's recieve every year. Not sure what you call that money. Although my friend has been in Alaska all her life and that makes her a Native, I do not see how someone who has moved there becomes a Native in two years, nor do I see that they are entitled to money that I believe orginally was meant for real Natives born and raised there. I think there should be a stop to that. I was told to move to Alaska just so I could get that extra income each year. I am on disability. I think the only ones who should get that money each year, should be the real Natives that were born there and have lived there all their lives. And I think Alaska should increase the amount given to the Native's by taking away from those who just move there and consider themselves Native after two years.