One old friend writes:
It’s time to dust off this old blog and put it to work again.
You might remember when we started this blog in January, 2009. Alaska’s soon to be reality TV star, gun toting, moose eating governor was not a heartbeat away from the presidency but people were still keeping an eye on Alaska. Several Alaskan bloggers had gained national audiences during the campaign and their comment sections had turned into pop-up communities.
It was there we first heard about the dire situation facing native people that winter. Following a miserable fishing season and an early freeze that prevented the delivery of their winter fuel by boat, people were being forced to decide whether to use the meager cash reserves they had to buy fuel at inflated prices to heat their homes or food to feed their families.
The governor showed up at one village with a plate of cookies for a photo op with a religious charity, but other than that, the residents of remote villages across rural Alaska were on their own. This blog was created as a clearinghouse for a nationwide air mail food drive.
When the news of the situation in rural Alaska broke, two bloggers from separate villages chimed in to comment about how real the need was in their communities. They volunteered to distribute anything people were able to send to the neediest among them. People from around the country packed hundreds of flat-rate boxes and shipped them to Nunam Iqua and Ugashik, Alaska throughout the winter. They truly made a difference.
But that was then and this is now, and there’s been another crisis involving an ill-fated fuel delivery.
If you’ve read this blog in the past, you probably remember “ugavic”. Victoria Briggs is a long-time resident of Ugashik, a tiny village on the Alaskan peninsula. She and her husband Roland (“Rollie”), and his parents before them, have owned and operated a fishing operation that has been the economic heart of the area since the sixties.
When Vic left corporate life in the lower 48 behind to marry Rollie, she embraced his dream of improving the lives of the people of Ugashik and neighboring Pilot Point.
If you look back through this blog, you’ll read about her love of gardening and the community garden she worked to start in Pilot Point so people there would have a supply of fresh vegetables. She has live-blogged from cold weather agriculture conferences and fishing board meetings while sharing her interest in sustainable agriculture and her concern about salmon bycatch in the Alaskan fishing industry.
More recently, Vic and Rollie built an airstrip on their property and expanded their family business into air services by operating a refueling station at their airstrip that brings in commercial traffic.
Victoria and Roland Briggs have been making a difference in their part of Alaska for many years where many area residents depend on the existence of their various enterprises for their livelihood.
Sadly, Vic and Rollie’s dreams and future together ended abruptly last fall when Roland’s fuel run upriver and out into Bristol Bay ended in tragedy. He was to meet a fuel barge, off-load a fuel purchase onto his boat, and head back home. He never made it back home. When Roland was overdue and Vic couldn’t reach him, she notified the US Coast Guard which put everything it had into searching meticulously for Roland and his boat. The best equipped search-and-rescue talent, equipment, and aircraft, plus private pilots, air-borne state troopers, and a local airline’s pilots running their normal routes all looked for any sign of this lost Alaskan. Altogether 8,000 square miles were crisscrossed with everyone looking for anything that would bring Roland home or answer the question of what happened to him. The only sign of him or his boat were three fuel tanks floating 25 miles out from shore; he would have been only about one mile offshore on his return trip. In February, he was declared legally dead, and Vic is left now to pick up the pieces of her life and her business — alone.
Another friend shares her view of this situation:
I am sharing this for one of my special friends, Victoria Briggs. The loss of their fuel barge at sea last October took her husband, her best friend, from her side. The business she is trying to run by herself now started as a salmon fishing cannery opened by Rollie’s parents in the early 1960s. Vic and Rollie dreamed big over the years to find a way to make the family business profitable year round so they could live in the place dear to Rollie’s heart and childhood.
They backed up their dreaming with each investing all their time and funds into their individual areas of expertise. High tunnel greenhouses were assembled and planted. An airstrip began to take shape, which grew longer and less bumpy as time went on. This allowed more air traffic in the area to serve charters, guides and 2-way deliveries. Fresh salmon could now be flown to market and not be limited to river-based fishing tenders who might just fill up and leave on a moment’s notice. Now everyone needed fuel! They began to build up their fuel business. As the fuel demand grew, they decided to add their own fuel barge to the mix so they had a dependable supply to meet the demand when a larger commercial fuel barge could not make it up river to refuel their operations. However, tragically, Roland’s first voyage for fuel was also his last. A proven, sturdy craft with a top notch captain / MacGyver clone at the helm disappeared completely, $50,000 worth of fuel gone, with none of it paid for or recovered.
Rollie was the “I fix everything under the sun but don’t ask to me to file” kind of guy and not only did he build, repair, install and monitor many different systems and equipment on his own property, he was for hire to any who needed his skill set so he traveled a lot! There was never a mechanical item he came in contact with that he didn’t know its language. He was a pilot, a captain, an equipment operator and a character. His heart was made of gold, and he loved to laugh.
Their ideas and work ethic were rock solid, and the business began to grow as they branched into serving more needs in the remote community which depends on fuel to run everything. Vic was growing food, raising poultry, keeping crews fed, and pumping fuel into anything that moved. They each had their talents and work experiences, but they also worked as a team, with Roland sharing most of what he could with Vic. However, today, his lifetime of skills that applied to everything they did together is also lost.
Vic now has to learn to run everything herself, which she is willing to do – wants to do – but she needs a helping hand to get the fueling business back on track. Her goal is to maintain a sustainable life in rural Alaska, which is not an easy task to begin with. Her business will help other businesses prosper and grow. Her delicious salmon products get shipped far and wide, sharing the Bristol Bay area’s super yummy and healthful bounty with all of us.
A GoFundMe account has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/2cdnh7fw to give Vic a chance to pick up the pieces and get back into full operating capacity. Besides the sudden terrible loss of her beloved husband, she’s also suffered financial losses in the last several months. High winds in December twisted and collapsed one of her high tunnels, so that’s a $20,000 loss. The lost fuel remains a $50,000 hit. The fuel boat itself is a loss. Plus several things remain to be done in order to get back to full capacity and continue where they left off as a company last October. Please help if you can, no matter how large or small.
Please share, Alaskans especially!