Fuel shortage slams Aleutian village

Anchorage, Alaska (AP) 2-08

The tiny Aleutian village of Nikolski has asked the state to declare an emergency because of its ongoing problems getting fuel.

Stormy weather has kept a barge from making a bulk delivery and the community of 30 has had to fly in small, expensive batches of heating oil for heat and power.

Fuel in Nikolski has been selling for nearly $11 a gallon, more than double the normal cost there.

“We just can’t afford to keep going at that rate anymore,” said Tanya Kyle, administrator for the Nikolski Tribal Council. “We started bringing in smaller shipments because we were told the barge would be coming, and we’ve been doing that ever since.”

Residents are rationing to stretch out their supply, Kyle said.

School is being taught at the teacher’s house. The post office and village store are open only a few days a week and people who need groceries on off days call the store owner at home, said Arnold Dushkin, president of the village council.

Villagers are trying to cut back on fuel consumption by using a smaller generator rather than the village powerhouse, Dushkin said. Laundry is run on a schedule and officials have asked people to avoid nonessential appliances.

“They’ve been doing pretty good about it, but it’s pretty bad at this time of year trying to keep homes warmed up,” Dushkin said.

Nikolski, about 900 miles southwest of Anchorage, placed its order for a year’s supply of fuel in July. By September, when the shipment should have arrived, powerful gales and high seas already were in place, according to Delta Western, the area’s supplier.

The state’s emergency services team is assessing Nikolski’s situation and will present the results in a report to Gov. Sarah Palin this week, Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said.

Because the problem continues to be the area’s weather, rather than availability of fuel, immediate action might not be possible, Leighow said.

Nikolski has 20,000 gallons of ordered fuel in Dutch Harbor, Kyle said. The fuel, which was being shipped by Magone Marine Service, made it to Nikolski last month. However, after transferring about 1,000 gallons, the vessel was forced by severe conditions to return to Dutch Harbor, she said.

That attempt was against federal regulations, according to the Coast Guard, which issued a warning to Magone for trying to deliver the fuel in an unapproved vessel.