Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Troubles on the YK delta.

Last year, over the summer, there were big troubles with the salmon fisheries on the Yukon. The counts were low, commercial quota was low, and they were thinking about slashing subsistence quota - you know things have gone to hell when they're thinking about messing with subsistence quota. They ended up not doing that, but because of the commercial situation, many folk ended up not working.

This has set a few communities up for big trouble in the winter. Emmonak (Imangaq) is north of Alakanuk, south of Kotlik, off the Yukon. Between the weak salmon run, early freeze up and that bad cold-stretch we had, people are unable to afford both fuel and food simultaneously. Subsistence harvest is barely making a difference. There's now a letter 'bout it in the Bristol Bay Times, which I'm going to reproduce in full, here.

January 9, 2009

Fuel Summit Participants

Emmonak, AK 99581

RE: Fuel Crisis Devastating Families & Households

Ladies and Gentlemen:

From several years ago, our heating fuel and gasoline costs have doubled in Emmonak. Current retail prices are $7.83 per gallon for heating fuel and $7.25 per gallon for gasoline, including the city sales tax. Our village has run out of heating fuel and the first airlift shipment has arrived at the airport. As early as today, the retail for our winter shipments is expected to be anywhere from $9 - $11 per gallon or higher.

Last summer, we experienced a king salmon fisheries disaster. We did not have any king salmon commercial openings. We had a chum salmon commercial harvest which is nothing compared to the king fishery. Chum harvest traditionally covered our king salmon fishing start-up costs, most of the purchase of new equipment, repair and maintenance, supplies, and operating expenses. Our commercial fishermen did not make any money. Our income from this meager, small-scale commercial harvest is basic to and vital to our seasonal subsistence fishing and hunting, berry picking, plant gathering, motor oil and gas, supplies, equipment, and cash for repairs of our outboard motors and our snowmachines used for winter wood gathering. This income pays for our many household bills.

Last fall, we weren’t delivered our usual fall fuel orders due to early freeze up. Following this, we got hit by a rare weather anomaly: It has been very, very cold since last part of September. This cold snap still persists as of this day. Households have tell me that there is more snow covering the driftwood out in the tundra and the coastlines, making it difficult finding the logs for firewood. A lot more gasoline and motor oil is being used in search of the driftwood. This winter-long, extreme cold snap is causing the furnaces and boilers to run constantly and to their maximum.

My family of ten, with a household of six adults and four minors, is one of the causalities of our current high costs of heating fuel and gasoline that are devastating families and households here in Emmonak of 847 residents. I am 63 and my wife is 54. For the first time, beginning December 2008, I am forced to decide buying between heating fuel or groceries. I had been forced to dig into our January income to stay warm during December. Again, for this month, same thing happens. I am taking away my February income this month to survive. Couple of weeks ago, our 8-year old son had to go to bed hungry. My wife and I provide for our family with disability, Veterans’ benefits, social security, and unemployment incomes. We are several months behind on our city water and sewer bills. We had originally used up all our $1,200 energy subsidy to prepay electricity for the winter and other bills in hope of surviving for this winter due to these high fuel costs. We didn’t anticipate the early freeze-up that prevented our native corporation getting its winter supplies of fuel. We didn’t anticipate an unexpected winter-long bitter cold. I don’t recall anything having occurred as cold as it has been and its length that we have to endure. The following are the costs of heating fuel and a 100-lb bottle of propane between December 12, 2008 and yesterday, a period of 29 days:

December 12, 2008, Stove oil, 55 gals: $ 440.54

December 14, 2008, 100# propane: $ 173.04

December 31, 2008, Stove oil, 55 gals: $ 440.54

January 9, 2009, Stove oil, 59 gallons: $ 471.85

Total: $1,525.97

On December 29, 2008, we had to get 16.1 gallons of stove oil delivered at the cost of $136.03 before we ran out. Luckily, we were awarded $135.59 energy assistance from our Association of Village Councils Presidents during the 3rd week of December 2008. It would have cost us that much more to heat our home. Then, ironically, yesterday, due to a leak, we were forced to buy another 100-pound bottle of propane – an additional, unexpected expenditure of $173.04 to the above. With 21 days left this month, we have just $440 in our account to feed all the nine people in my house (one daughter is in Fairbanks temporarily).

Our family situation dawned on me: “what about my neighbors?” Just two days ago, I made a VHF radio announcement asking families to call me about what is really going on in their households due to the high costs of fuel. Within few hours, 21 households responded and several more yesterday. Many may have had their radios turned off, not at home, or just cannot afford one.

Here is what they related:

P. & K. A.: Middle aged couple, family of five. They are forced to buy heating fuel over food.

M. & M. G.: Middle aged, family of six: No wood at all; hard time buying stove oil.

L. M.: Young single parent, mother of one. On her last energy assistance, 10.2 gallons left, Dad in Anchorage for medical check up; his snowmachine and a 4-wheeler are frozen.

E. & A. U.: Elders, ages 68 and 65, family of eight and helping daughter in another house with food; gets no food stamps and both have no work. They have to buy heating fuel and gasoline for snowmachine over food.

A. & L. M.. Middle aged couple, family of eight. Family is buying heating fuel over food all this winter. They have no choice. Wife has a part time job. Husband’s health, including a bad back, is preventing work – had lost his last job due to health.

J. & W. M.: Family of seven. Husband, 57, provides family with his disability checks. Unable to work due to his health. Needs all the help in keeping house warm and to have enough food for the young children.

C. & J. A.: Middle aged couple, family of 5. Needs heating fuel and had his unemployment benefits denied. No more energy assistance. Having to buy heating fuel over food and sacrificing payments of electric and city water sewer to get food.

T. U., boyfriend and children: Having hard time getting food and pampers and is on-call work. Getting food from elderly parents. Buying heating fuel over food. No food once in a while and having to cook whatever is on hand like rice. Sometimes, having to cook only moose for a whole week because there is nothing else to eat. There are days when there is nothing for breakfast and lunch and have to eat only one dinner meal a day.

T. & J. L.: Young couple, family of four. Hard time getting heating fuel; have no gasoline for their snowmachine to get wood and credit line at the local fuel tank farm is over limit. Family gets some food stamps but goes fast due to high cost of groceries in the village. Sometimes, having just little bit of food in the house because whatever money they have is used primarily for buying hearting fuel.

R. & T. A.: Young couple, family of seven. Family is having difficult time getting heating fuel. They are having hard time getting any jobs in the village. They are forced to get heating fuel and have little bit of food. Wife has to get heating fuel from her father to keep their house warm and keep the hot water heater turned. Both are having very hard time keeping up with electricity and water/sewer bills.

P. J.: Widower and provider of five children. As of December 31, 2008, his food stamps have been cut off. He debates between buying heating fuel or food. His kids have to eat. He has to keep his kids warm at night during these very cold winter days. He is having hard time getting heating fuel and is piled up on bills, rent, water/sewer. He is behind in payments.

A.K. Jr: single, unemployed. Has no stove oil, gasoline and motor oil for getting logs. He depends on neighbors for a snowmachine to get logs. People get tired of him asking. Each trip to get sled load of logs is $50 to $70 to high cost of gasoline at $7.25 a gallon. He is using any kinds of wood including cotton wood just to keep warm. His woodstove is kept off all day during these cold days just to save what little wood he has so he could sleep warm at night. His monthly food stamps last only couple of weeks due to very high cost of groceries in the stores in our village. He has to get some food from his elderly father and uncles to survive. He has not been able to get any heating fuel since last fall. It is a choice between heating fuel or gasoline to get wood. Wood lasts longer. The first part of this winter, he was able to get logs from the coastline, 12 miles out, but they are now covered with snow and extremely hard to find. He is getting whatever he is able get his hand on within a mile away from the village, like willows. On occasion, he pulls a sled by and to get the willows and little wood.

M. & M. A (Sr): Elderly couple, 80 and 75. Four adults live in the household. He is forced to buy heating fuel over food. He gets some help with energy assistance. It is very cold this winter and cannot go without heat. It is hard to get wood. Heating fuel used to be less than the price of gasoline. These days, it is higher. His daughter helps with groceries, water/sewer and electricity bills.

G. & K. F.: Young couple with family of five. Wife is unable to sleep and stressed out not knowing when they will be able get their next heating fuel. A 100-lb. bottle of propane gas that usually lasts four months is now lasting only two months because they use it to heat water. This costs them $200 every two weeks. They do not have hot water heater. Wife has very little income and uses $375, the one-half of her gross income every two weeks, to get heating fuel. She has no food for her family sometimes, because, she has to split the rest of what little is left for water/sewer and electricity. Gasoline for her 4-wheeler is very expensive. Her parents help her with food and firewood. They cannot afford a snowmachine or a boat to get logs. Heating fuel and propane is taking her food money away. Her added worry is that the village native corporation is running out of heating fuel and is being airlifted in. New cost is expected to be near $9 - $11 per gallon or higher.

R. & M. W: Near middle aged couple, family of 5. Husband not working, use wood for heating and a monitor at night. At times, have to decide between getting heating fuel or food. Their food stamps and other public assistance applications have been denied citing over income. Wife knows the customers are being refused charges at the local tank farm. The company is hurt having to say no to customers with over-limit balances and it gets very difficult at times.

J. & M. B: Young couple, family of 9. They used to have energy assistance. They have run out of heating fuel many times. Most of the time, they are getting their heating fuel at $28 - $30 at a time. This comes to less than five gallons at a time. They use their woodstove during the day and the monitor at night. Although they had gotten more subsistence food to fill their freezer, they are already running out of moose. They do have lots of fish on hand, but on other stables, they barely have enough most of the time – barely enough to eat. They want get more their groceries from the store, but can’t. Most of the time they would have just rice and maybe spam – as long as their kids did not go to bed hungry(could sense choking over the phone from trying not to cry).

C. & L. R: Near middle aged couple, with six children. Another family moved in with them. They are having difficult time. They did had gotten some energy assistance. They are in need of pampers and formula milk. Sometimes, the entire household has one meat a day – at supper time. They are struggling to get heating fuel. They are behind in their electricity, water and sewer bills. The last time, they we able to get 17 gallons of heating fuel. (Could tell the wife was crying as she related these to me.)

Y. & A. K(Sr): Husband is 70 and wife. Three in the household. Husband is sick with Parkinson’s disease. He gets dizzy. He is forced to quit his job. He is unable to get other work. He is real hurt that he cannot do what he had been able to do. At 68, he was still working. They are going through real hardship. He would not be getting some heating fuel and firewood if it were not for his boys. They would be in very bad shape. They are having snowmachine problems. He counts on his boys to get firewood. He is unable to do that. Gasoline for the snowmachine is too high at $7.04 a gallon. He is exempt from city sales tax. He has no way to feed his family. His boys did set net under ice, but due to the very long cold snap, it is frozen to the ice. Sometimes they go hungry. He cries when he is alone – have to let it out. He does not feel old – his health is stopping him from providing for his family. He is not used to it. He is used to getting a paycheck every two weeks. The electricity and city water/sewer bills are higher – hopes they will not be cut off.

M. & P. Y: Husband is 58, family of four. Although he started work last August, most of the time, little at a time, he is getting heating fuel. He has a monitor stove. His energy assistance is depleted. His house is cold half of the time. He does not get food stamps. His Permanent Fund Dividend is all gone. His rent is $250 per month. He is struggling to make ends meet.

G. & F. H: Near middle aged couple, family of six. The husband cried as he was talking to me. He says he is not doing good. He receives a very small unemployment income and is out of fuel a lot. He is able to get his heating fuel five gallons at a time. His family has been out of food for quite some time now. Their one-year old child is out of milk, can’t get it and he has no idea when he will be able to get the next can. He has been borrowing milk from anyone he can. His moose meat supply is running out. He has been out of work since October 2008. There are no jobs available. Because of this very high cost of heating fuel, he is in this situation. The electricity has sky-rocketed and he can’t pay all the bills. What little money he gets goes into food and it is getting very, very hard. He hopes to find food somewhere. He is mainly concerned about his one-year old child, his wife and thinks that his wife may be pregnant. They do have some pilot bread, There are days without food in his house. He is not concerned about himself, but about his wife and children. He calls other family members for a can of milk. Whatever little bit of meat they have left, they are trying to make it last. They have little bit of it at a time and out of that, eat as much they can so that they would not be too hungry during the night. They almost lost their child last year with RS. She is sickly. Their house is not well insulated. The five gallons of heating fuel they are able get last four days. They use their electric stove for heat. Without any work, it is very hard. It is hard for me to imagine what my family has to go further on with – my kids and my wife. This winter is hardest for us with high price of everything. My brother and his son, we give them some food, whatever little we have. We let them eat as long as I have something to share. Our freezers are going empty. Have to use heaters to help keep the house warm. Just to think about all this is very hard – it hurts.

P. R: Single, separated, with five children. (He chokes occasionally, holding back crying.) He and his children are staying in the same household with his brother’s family. Cost of fuel is so high and everything else and we’re able to get just a few things at a time. We have no other subsistence food left. Only thing we’re surviving on moose meat alone and it is almost gone. Everything is so high – only able to get little bit. We can’t catch up on our bills. We’re really hurting even we are given some from other people. Right now, we can’t eat during the day, only at supper time. And, it is still not enough. If there had been no school lunch, our kids would be starving. It is going to get worse in two weeks when our new heating fuel supply is airlifted in. Price of fuel will go way up again. I am lucky that the Women’s Shelter is able to give me some coffee.

M. M. & A.R: Middle aged, couple with a child, family of three. Don’t know how they are going to survive. They are getting heating fuel five gallons at a time or $20 at a time. When the new supply of fuel is air shipped in, it is going to get even harder. We are improvising our woodstove. This is the hardest year – other years were okay. This is the worst year.

S.K & Girlfriend: Both young, 37 and 34. He says his mom has cried from these hardships they are going through (his mom is 73 and dad is 68). He and his girlfriend have no heating fuel. Whatever money he gets goes to getting gasoline for his snowmachine to get logs. They have barely any money left for food. Sometimes, he has to borrow little bit of money to get some food from his 73-year old mom. There are some days he and his girlfriend are without any food. Today, they had nothing for breakfast. Most of the time, they have some dry fish for lunch or Cup of Noodles with Pilot Bread. There are times they go without dinner or if they eat, they have little bit and that would set them up for the night. His electricity bill use to be $60 for the little house they’re in and now it is over $100 a month. They’re living without city water/sewer and use honey buckets and have to dump them. They pack water. They have no money for city water and sewer. Their snowmachine is finally out of commission. They had to keep using it to get whatever firewood they could even the bearings had been broken because they can’t afford to do repair work on the machine. They were packing water with in that condition.

O. & A. M: Young couple, 34 and 37, five in the family. They are in need of heating fuel and food. They are buying so much heating fuel – burning so much. They are having hard time getting food. They have not paid for their city water/sewer since October 2008. They go without dinner sometimes. Their kids are able to have lunch – at school. They have no woodstove. Their house is very small and if they did get a woodstove, they wouldn’t know where to put it.

T. & A. P: Middle aged couple, 47 and 41. Eight in the family. Very, very cold winter. Their 55-gallon heating fuel lasts only two weeks: this is about $441 every two weeks. They are able to burn wood, but the gas for the snowmachine is very expensive and the logs are very hard to find in this early snow. Logs are covered under the snow. The husband has to use more gasoline and motor oil in search of the logs for firewood. Rent and rent payments are okay. Husband has a part time work and some unemployment income. The family receives some food stamps but runs out around the third week of each month. Subsistence hunting is not easy because it takes time, having to use lot more gas at $7.25 a gallon. He and his wife can’t even get hygiene stuff like toilet paper and bath soap to keep clean. His part time income isn’t enough – he works only four hours a day. His wife is limited on what jobs she can get. She has a bad back problem – she use to have a job. Husband is doing what he can by himself.

As you can see, I had only a day and a half to gather and compile this information. I am reaching out for these families. Help is needed and cannot be delayed. I cannot imagine so many in this village are in hunger, without fuel, and other essentials and uncertain about their future. What is mind boggling about the whole situation is that they have remained silent, anonymous, suffered, and cried. The four villages in this region are in close proximity to each other and the demography is the same. Is this going on in your village?

This is not the time for any debates or questions. The winter-long anomaly in the weather, conditions, and the situation are beyond our control.

There are approximately 200 households of the 847 residents here. In just a day and half, I was able to reach only 25 households. Are as many as 175 more remaining silent? In appearance, the heads of these 25 households look normal. I am devastated from the revelation of these few houses contacted. Additionally, how many of those who are able to work are without jobs? Easily, staggering 400 plus! Some other households are still calling, but I have few hours to print this report for my testimony during today’s fuel summit.

Though it may sound absurd, a massive airlift of food in the months of January, February, March and April will help our people. Any peoples, churches, organizations, associations, and government agencies ought to sent money to our native corporations to offset both the current fuel prices and the airlift presently underway. For over thirty years, we have witnessed in our region that our native corporations are just like people. They have limited income and their expenses have always been high. Why? Our Wade Hampton district has always been the most economically depressed than that of our both nation and state. We are in the most remote area of our state.

To help, please call:

City of Emmonak, (907) 949-1227/1249

Emmonak Tribal Council, (907) 949-1720

Emmonak Corporation, (907) 949-1129/1315/1411

Emmonak Sacred Heart Catholic Church Pastoral Parish Council Chairman, (907) 949-1011.

To assist with offsetting heating fuel costs, call Emmonak Corporation.

For distribution of food, I would suggest Emmonak Tribal Council handle this.

Lastly, for some who do not know me, I have been advocate for this region the past thirty years in its commercial and subsistence fisheries, social issues, and socio-economic issues and our church. One of my credentials include having been an appointed by two governors as advisor to the Yukon River Salmon Treaty negotiations. The families contacted are reaching out in desperation through me and now, you.


Nicholas C. Tucker, Sr.


Anonymous said...

I'm speechless.
This is only one community - in how many other places do people face the same type of problems, and spring is still a long way away.
What is being done by the various levels of government?

KC said...

I haven't heard anything this dire from Kotlik, though... I never heard it was this bad from the folk I know in Emo. So I don't know what that's worth.

Gov't... probably not much. They're about as effective as using peanut butter as engine grease.