EMERGENCY RESPONSE – Members of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood this week organized a city-wide food drive for residents of Angoon and other villages affected by the lack of Alaska Marine Highway System ferry service. Hundreds of pounds of food were collected at Sitka High School and other drop off sites. Thursday night about three dozen people attended a meeting at ANB Founders Hall to discuss the ferry situation and prepare food for shipping. Laurie Serka, outstation manager for Alaska Seaplanes, said Alaska Seaplanes, Sitka Custom Marine and Dr. Sul Ross Thorward donated shipping costs for the perishable food donated by AC Lakeside. Tom Gamble is planning to take a load of food to Angoon aboard his boat. Donations for shipping food to Kake are currently being sought. Contact for the donations is Nancy Furlow, ANS Camp 4 president, 907 227-9102. PHOTOS: clockwise from top left, Laurie Serka, Steve Schmidt and Marjo Vidad of Alaska Seaplanes load food bound for Angoon this morning. Tom Gamble and Chad Titell  deliver boxes of food from Sitka High School to ANB Founders Hall Thursday night. Paulette Moreno, ANS Grand Camp president, addresses volunteers Thursday night. Sitkans gather in a circle at ANB Founders Hall Thursday to brainstorm responses to the lack of state ferry service. (Sentinel Photos by James Poulson)

Funding Changes to Raise Rural Alaska Utility Bills

    JUNEAU,  (AP) — Residents of rural Alaska will be hit with rising energy costs after a statewide funding change, officials said.
    The state Legislature annually transfers money from dozens of state accounts into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Monday.
    Officials say a $1 billion energy account used to offset costs for rural communities is included in the money transfer known as “the sweep.”
    Lawmakers for the past 28 years have returned the funds taken at the end of each fiscal year, until this year when they voted not to replenish the account.
    The office of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature included the program in their respective state budgets, but they have not agreed on the funding sources.
    Homeowners’ bills could increase from an average of $80 up to thousands of dollars per month, said Reese Huhta of the Unalakleet Valley Electric Cooperative.
    More than 270 homes, 40 businesses and 22 community facilities in the Unalakleet Valley should expect higher bills, Huhta said.
    The city of Unalakleet’s electric bill will double, affecting everything from streetlights to collecting water and pumping sewage, he said.
    “Annually they’ll spend, in our models, $55,000 to $70,000 more,” Huhta said.
    The utility has not received formal notice from the state about the lack of funds to reimburse power costs. It cannot afford to issue billing credits to customers without payment for long, he said.
    “I think we will see more shutoff notices,” Huhta said. “We have a lot of members that are on fixed incomes, and there’s just not a lot of money trees to shake.”


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