Archive for August, 2010

New $330,000 Dock Proposal for 6-8 Boats Smells Fishy; Ugashik Tribal Council Calls It “Economic Development” Part 2: The Project Moves Forward

August 29, 2010

Aug 29, 2010

About a three-and-a-half years ago, the Ugashik Traditional Village’s Tribal Council applied for permits to build a new dock.  The dock proposed in that permitting process is ambitious and includes converting the back portion of the old cannery building into a processing area at a later date.

The Permitting Process

During the permitting process, I publicly questioned a few things about the proposal which, apparently, upset the drift boat owners who favor the new dock.  Among the issues I questioned were subsistence fishing, the proximity of commercial set net fishing sites to the proposed construction and what the timing of demolition would do to those fishing sites.  My questions drew the ire of not only the president of the Tribal Council but also some of the small drift boat owners, the part-time villagers who are most likely to benefit from the dock.

My husband and I took our questions to our Lake and Peninsula Borough’s planning committee, which had its own concerns.  Before the  planning committee agreed to approve and issue the their permit  they asked that modifications be made to address things like safety, the commercial fishing set net sites located about 1000′ up river from the proposed dock  and a host of other issues before they would agree for the permits to be issued.

The changes were made and the permits were approved by the various borough, state and federal agencies.

Where’s the Funding

At the time I felt filing for the permits was a case of the “putting the cart before the horse” as the Ugashik Traditional Village Tribal Council had not yet received ANY grant monies from any agency towards this project. Getting permits before approval for grant monies is sometimes done to show that the project will not hit any major hang-ups during the permitting phase. Permits can then be extended.

The lack of overall infrastructure in Ugashik, the aging and tiny number of actual, year-round residents  and a lack of fish remaining after the current processor completes seasonal harvesting are all reasons that this line of thinking has never worked in the past in getting grant monies. This did not seem to dawn on any of the council enough to rethink the need for a new dock.

The tribal council appears to suffer from a lack of awareness that all these grant agencies know each other and ‘talk’. Many times my husband and I have been  personally contacted and asked to supply facts about our community that the grant reader felt were left out to help disguise how small a village we really are.

This pricey dock proposal seems especially questionable to me due to an occurrence I witnessed only a few months earlier.  A meeting was held with yet another of many economic development consultants about how the village might move forward with some type of economic development plan.

This latest consultant represented a very respectable company and met with the few local winter residents, as well a few summer residents, trying to glean input on what type of economic development might be feasible, especially as it might be relate to the new proposed dock. Although this meeting lasted more than three hours, I do not recall even a SINGLE concrete idea expressed to support this new dock as proposed.

At one point, my frustration with the group on the lack of solid, well-thought out planning led me to ask: “What if, heaven forbid, the old rotted dock fell into the river tonight.  How would the local fishermen, especially the drift fishermen pushing for this new dock, be hurt?”  The answer……wait for it, I am sure your jaw will drop as mine did…..’We would be inconvenienced’!!!

Might this be a case of these few drift fishermen feeling they are entitled to the new proposed dock,  as much as$330,000, that would never be used by more than maybe a total of 6-8 local residents to load/unload gear, for ONLY about 4-6 weeks each year?

About this time last year the ‘dock project’ stalled, despite efforts by the tribal council to the contrary.  It was also about then that I learned the use of funds available by our CDQ, Bristol Bay Economic Developent, as ‘community block’ grants were being sunk into the project WITHOUT consulting the specific residents these funds are directly meant to assist.

My efforts to get these funding details might well surprise some of you who are new to this type of fight. Other readers will see a pattern many of us fight in Alaska!!!

Coming soon — Questionable use CDQ/BBEDC Funds by Tribal Council

~ Victoria

New $330,000 Dock Proposal for 6-8 Boats Smells Fishy; Ugashik Tribal Council Calls It “Economic Development” Part 1: Overview

August 26, 2010

Aug 26, 2010

Ugashik is a tiny village in lower Bristol Bay Alaska. Currently there are about 10 full-time residents. The population swells to about 50 people in the summer, all associated with fishing in one form or another. The village has an interesting history. It was one of the largest Native villages on the Alaska Peninsula until it was almost totally wiped out by the flu pandemic of the early 1900′s. It lives on today as a small community of fishermen.

In exploring old land surveys from the village we found that in the late 1800s there were as many as seven fish canning or salting companies here at once.

No large processing company has been in business here since the 1950s, when the Wingard’s Cannery operated here. It was acquired then by Alaska Packers Co. and shut down.

Getting Fish to Market

Since the Ugashik cannery closed decades ago, local fishermen have depended on a tender, a large boat sent the twenty miles up the Ugashik River by a large processing company, to buy our fish and get it to market. Five years ago, the major processing company that bought Ugashik salmon for last few years stopped buying fish in the village.  No other buyer was found who was willing to send a tender up to village to buy fish.

Fishermen can’t sell their fish to just any processor. The processor must agree beforehand to buy fish from the fishermen, and ALL buyers maintain a mysterious ‘A list’ of preferred fishermen. You can be ‘downgraded’ or dropped at any time for any reason. You then have to find someone new to sell fish to, and if they want to freeze you out for any reason, it is a done deal.

You are not allowed to fish if you don’t have a buyer.

That year we people in Ugashik were lucky to be able to skip around to various buyers and get our fish sold over the course of the next few weeks. Fish were in short supply that year, and the quality of fish we were bringing to the processors was very good.

The following year this same processor that had shut our village fishermen out sent a letter to all the fishermen in the Ugashik fishing district telling them they would not be buying their fish the coming year. This was done in January and sent such a shock wave through the villages that we are still trying to recover.

It can take years to secure a good steady market for your fish. This left the fishermen floundering just months before fishing preparations were ready to start.

My husband’s family started a small processing company in the village back in the early 60’s. It mostly processes fish we catch after the large processors leave the area since they are usually only in Bristol Bay for the heaviest 4 weeks of an up to 12 weeks season. If area fishermen were inclined to work longer than the heaviest 4 weeks of the season, the company bought their fish as well.

That focus changed a few years ago when none of the large processors would send a tender up river to buy fish from the villagers. We worked to help bring in a new larger processor into the bay four years ago to buy fish during the heavy part of the season and began gearing up our plant so we could process more fish locally.

The Old Dock

After the cannery closed back in the ’50s, the old buildings and dock were parceled out and are now privately owned, including the ‘old dock’ portion which is owned by Ugashik Traditional Village, our local tribal entity.

This old dock portion has been used by the residents and visitors as a place to assemble, ‘hang’ nets, store boats and load gear on and off drift boats. At one time, when we still had boats delivering freight to the village, it was also used as a place to unload freight.

The old dock’s deteriorating condition the last 5-10 years had made most of this activity impossible or at ‘your own risk’, at best.

The actual dock and outer portion of the building finally collapsed about a year ago when a summer resident led an effort to demolish it. The workers were lucky enough to be ‘at lunch’ when the supports under the building portion splintered and led to the result shown in the photo, below.

Here it is this past winter — after the summer resident-led group tried to do the demo

Another view- they started UNDER the structure supposedly for a demo project.

Somehow the crew was under the assumption that the place to start in the demolition effort was UNDER the building. Excuse me for still being baffled by why they felt they needed to START there.

In April of this year, thank heavens, a professional company that used local people with some engineering experience was able to bring the building down safely.

What is left of the collapsed portion after the
contractor/locally led effort that started the demo FROM THE TOP!

The New Dock

During the last 6-7 years the Ugashik Traditional Village Tribal Counsel has been trying to get grants to either refurbish the old one or build a new dock. For a number of years before that there had been efforts to get a small, village-based fish processor started that would be owned by the tribe.

About 7-8 years ago the Tribe hired a consultant who suggested that they needed to concentrate on getting a dock built and then pursue a processing plant and other projects to boost the local economy. At that time there was an effort by the Denali Commission, an Alaska-based federally funded agency, to update docks in Western Alaska. The thinking back then was that getting monies for a dock,  would be easier to obtain than funding for a processing plant. Build a dock, and a processing plant would follow.

The tribal council hired one consultant after another to help the council come up with some type of direction in which to develop more of an economical base than just their riverfront access to Bristol Bay’s salmon returning to their spawning grounds. Eventually, the Tribe hired a contractor/consultant to design a new dock. The drawings were done, and permits filed for. It was proposed that part of the existing building would be demolished, and a new steel and wood structure would be built.

Is This Project Necessary?

Ugashik has only 6-8 local drift boats that use a dock, for loading and unloading gear, and for no longer than 4-6 weeks each summer. The actual concentration of use is probably less than 10-14 days for the entire year.

The tribe is planning on spending $330,000 on this project. Does Ugashik really need a state of the art dock?

Coming soon — The Project Moves Forward

~ Victoria

Almost A Normal Morning!

August 19, 2010

Photo: Tricia Ward –

Aug 19, 2010

Funny how the season wraps back on itself. This fall (in Alaska August is fall!), morning we are again or still doing the same morning/tide ritual.  In just a few short weeks the cold will start and we will be putting all the boats and gear up for the winter. The ability to sleep a little later and ignore the tides will come again until winter chores happen.  Once again we will have to watch tides, which comes as ‘overflow’, i.e., water that comes through the breaks in the ice.

Until then here is a glimpse of a normal morning in an Alaskan fishing household in early June of this year:

This morning as we were out launching the boat under a full moon at 3 AM, to catch the tide just after it was at its peak, I remembered about it.

As our boat was heading down river there came another boat that was launched just upriver in the village. Nice to see others out that time of morning :-)

The alarm goes off at 5:15 AM. This is the first time this season we have gotten up to catch a tide to get something done. (farming might be ruled by the weather, but fishing and even coastal communities are ruled by the tides, year around!!)

When loading things onto the landing craft, a boat with a ramp that drops down in the front, you usually want to do it as near the “top” of the high tide. Easier to not drive or drag all the things through the mud on the beach if there is any. It also easier on a whole range of boat needs doing it as the tide is near its highest.

We decide it is a tad too dark to get up yet, THAT excuse will only last another week as we gain 5 minutes a day in daylight this time of year. We roll over for 20 minutes more sleep/rest.

Once up, we quickly dressed. Hats, gloves, down jackets still and rubber fishing boots, Xtratufs the  brand that have a ‘narrow’ ankle so they don’t slip off as you wade through the mud or fish.

Hubby gets the big front loader started to warm up and get its air brakes primed. Same for the big truck we are loading to deliver down river.

Last night we got a last-minute call from the village we are headed to. Their septic tank ‘pumper’ is down and a resident has a tank that is full, can they borrow our village’s? After a few calls, permission is given.
Hubby heads down to pick up the pumper with our loader. I follow with the truck to make sure he doesn’t need help sighting the hitch hook-up. That is accomplished and back we head to lift it into the bed of the truck we are loading.

Time is good, it is still before 6 AM and high tide is at 7 AM, the time we are trying to have the truck loaded.

The truck is driven down the ramp to the river and parked. The loader is behind it with large planks on the forks to use as braces and support for the truck to drive onto the boat with.

Down the ramp we trudge, onto the beach, still with some ice and mud left from the winter, and into the skiff. We are heading out to the landing craft that is anchored farther out. Yesterday it was stocked, fueled, and readied for the first trip of the season. Then launched and anchored out in the river.

Damn, it looks like the tide has turned a tad early and we are already losing water on the beach. The skiff is too big to push-off if we let it go more than half way dry so all three of us get it off the beach and into the water immediately.

As we hop in we tell the dogs to ‘stay’ on the beach with our friend who is helping us.That worked until I looked away and the Lab said “Not again!! I got left a few days ago when the village guys headed up river to hunt”. Into the water she went and sure enough as we are half way out in the river here she comes. We wait and pick her up and into the skiff. She is THRILLED!! The Chesapeake decides she is happy to pick a spot and wait for us.

As we pull up to the bigger landing craft the winds start to pick up. This is important as it can make even a in-river trip miserable so we notice it and hope it levels off.

Tying the skiff to the landing craft I urge the Lab to jump on board the bigger boat. I know she is going to get cold with the wind but we are not going to have time to haul her up the steps to the cabin.

Into the cabin I go, we get the engine(s) started and the anchor pulled. The ramp on the front of the boat is let down as we pulled onto the beach. One person needs to stay in the cabin, watching so the engines don’t over heat as they are pushing the boat against the beach and also to keep the boat straight on the beach.

Our friend helps get the planking set up on the boat ramp and decking so the truck can load without damaging the decking. We are rushing since the tide is quickly receding. In our area we have tides that range up to 15′ and move quickly in and out. Today the tide is a high one of 21.5 feet to a low in about 6 hours of 6.5 feet.

We get the truck loaded with less than a foot of clearance on each side. The front ramp gets pulled up and the big loader bumps up against the boat to push us off the beach. As soon as we are totally floating free we realize the boat is listing too much to one side. About that time the darn engine stalls out as the fuel filters get plugged. The boat listing that much caused the fuel tank intake to drain down to all the ‘junk’ at the bottom of the tank that ALWAYS has sludge from the fuel. Damn and double damn!!

Hubby jumps to get the anchor out so we don’t float either down river, onto the beach or a sand bar, especially given the wind.

Next we spend 20-30 minutes getting the filter cleaned and things worked out so we can get back on the beach to back the truck off and hopefully get it loaded a little better balanced.

I venture to look over at the Lab to see how she is doing. Shivering due to being wet she realizes it is much better to head to the floor of the skiff and out of the winds. She is still so darn happy to be there with us she doesn’t care about being cold!

Finally the filters are cleaned and the power is back on. Anchor is up again and back to the beach we head. We have lost about 15 feet of beach front so we are down in more of the mud or the softer edges of the river bottom.

We get the ramp down again, planks moved around a tad and the truck backed off. I hold my breath as I hold the boat on the beach and watch from the cabin that the truck doesn’t just sink into the beach.

It works!! We are loaded and listing a tad, but doable for an in-river run!

The landing craft is backed off the beach and we head back into the deeper part of the river. The winds are at about 20 knots at this point. Not great but the trips should be OK at least until they get to the mouth of the river and are less protected.

We anchor the landing craft and head to the beach with the skiff. It is about 8:30 AM.

I head up to start breakfast while the guys put some last-minute supplies such as food, extra clothes, drinking water, etc. in the skiff.

Quickly I turn off the electric fence to keep the bears out that is surrounding the chicken’s yard, let them out and feed them.

The dogs get fed, water put on for coffee, and oven on to heat. Biscuits get mixed, eggs get whipped, cheese comes out to add to eggs, coffee gets ground.

I run out to see if the guys want to me to wait until they come in or start the actual cooking of breakfast. They feel they will be ready in about 20 minutes to eat. I log into email, pull the day’s schedule and double-check I don’t have any questions on what all is needed to be done while the guys head out for a few days.
They come in for breakfast, all of us thinking we have some time before they need to leave. In consulting the tide schedule we realize the tide will only ebb, head out, for a few more hours thus they need to leave pretty quick so as not to ‘fight the tide’. You save a VAST AMOUNT of fuel if you let the river help you make the journey, also you ultimately go quicker.

Still more things are packed up. Lighter for the stove, some extra warm socks, eggs for a customer down river, etc. SOMETHING is always forgotten but you do your best. Each trip is somewhat different so in that lies the lack of ‘checklists’.

As I see the guys head down the ramp one more time I realize they forgot the lighter. I rush out and down to the beach.

As they are loading and we are talking last-minute things the skiff catches both the tide and wind and starts to pull the anchor out and float QUICKLY out farther in the river. Hubby runs with his arms full of a tote and jumps onto the anchor. We get it pulled back up and he set the anchor again.

As I watch him head down farther the anchor pulls again! Damn wind!! I run, in clogs, into the mud to grab the darn anchor. He realizes it is heading out again and turns to tell me and sees I have it and am now holding the muddy anchor and pulling the boat back up on shore. The skiff weighs a few thousand pounds and then of course add all the things in it. Wet icy mud is damn cold when you don’t have gloves!! Doing this is clogs on a muddy beach, interesting!!

Things are loaded, anchor grabbed again and I wait to see them take off.

As I trudge one more time up the ramp and then the short hillside up to our side yard I see the eggs that I packaged up for the customer sitting on some timbers where the guys where loading.

Oh well if that is the worst for this trip it will be good!!!

It is about 11 AM. People often wonder what all I do out here in the ‘bush’ and how I stay ‘busy’. This is pretty normal in one way or the other almost all year.


A Break In The Clouds!

August 15, 2010

Aug 15, 2010

All of us here at AB have had a summer full of adventures and work. Some time with family, much time spent away from the computer and, as you probably noticed, the blog.

In Alaska, the month of August is considered the season of Fall. Since I never feel like we get Spring until at least mid-May, it tends to make the activity level even more harried when we realize we could well get snow and freezing temperatures in a month or so.

We are working on a number of things for you that have happened during this time away from the blog, and you should start to see the fruit of all that work soon.

It has been the season of fishing and growing and, in some instances, seems to include some shenanigans, too.

Stay tuned, but, for now, enjoy a break in the clouds as we did today in Bristol Bay, and may you, too, have a rainbow in your day.

Hearts Are Heavy This Week in Alaska

August 13, 2010

Aug 13, 2010

From the time I first heard of the plane crash near Dillingham this week, my eyes have been near tears, and my heart heavy. As the wife of a pilot and daughter-in-law of another pilot involved in a serious crash years ago, I know the fear, freedom, and acceptance that comes from having pilots in the family. It’s been hard for me to bear the sorrow this week after learning that some dear friends of ours were closely related to the pilot, one of five who died in the crash. Four people survived.

My husband can tell you of losing some very special people in his life over the years to this mode of transportation. I’ve had a more limited time in Alaska than him, but I can tell you of at least one person who made a difference in my life and was lost in a plane crash like that of the Stevens party.

We have no roads in most of the state. If you stay on roads here to travel and see the state, you definitely will not see much. That is why airplane travel is so common here, and, with it, unfortunately, come crashes.

I know of no seasoned pilot, or the family of one, who doesn’t take their flying skill very seriously every time they climb into an aircraft. The skills required to fly in much of Alaska are numerous and those who do it for a living are special in my book. Take that into account when you hear all the ‘they should have’.

Please keep in your prayers all the victims, their families, and those who were affected that you will not even hear about. It is a sad time for Alaskans but we will marshal on after some time of reflection.