Alaska's King

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Location: Alaska, United States

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Thousands of Alaskans Face Hardship

In what is supposed by many to be the most advanced country on Earth, thousands of Alaskan Citizens are struggling to enjoy the basics of life enjoyed and taken for granted by the rest of the United States.

Villages in Alaska are about to be cut off from electricity in one of the richest states of the U.S. This will mean an end to the already substandard chronic medical, dental, and basic standard of living already suffered by many Alaskans.

While the usual news outlets are focused and concerned by the plight of climbers on North America's tallest peak, Denali (AKA Mt McKinley), it is again a situation of the few versus the many.

Seven villages in Western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands are in jeopardy of losing electricity to their public buildings and water and sewer utilities this year because they cannot pay their bills.

The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, which provides electric service to 52 communities in rural Alaska, sent a letter to state lawmakers and the administration earlier this month informing them that 17 villages are severely delinquent in payment of the electricity bills.

AVEC President and CEO Meera Kohler said 10 of the villages have paid or made arrangements to pay since the letter was sent. But the western villages of Chevak, Emmonak, Koyuk, Shaktoolik, Shishmaref, Wales and the Aleutian Island village of Gambell still owe tens of thousands of dollars in some cases.

"The unprecedented increase in the cost of heating fuel and gasoline in recent years coupled with the loss of state funding has left most of the municipal governments that AVEC serves struggling to pay for their electrical services," AVEC Board Chairman Robert Beans wrote in a June 8 letter to the Murkowski administration. "These communities are in serious need of assistance and in jeopardy of losing vital community services."

AVEC already has turned off one account in Chevak, a village of about 900 on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, about 20 miles inland from the Bering Sea.
In February, the utility cut electric service to about 12 housing units in the village for unpaid utilities.

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