Author Archive

Racing to be ready for the new season

May 9, 2016

A message from Victoria:

Airplanes Are Due!

A few times a day recently, I have been getting updates on the guides, lodges and other pilots due to arrive for the ‘season’ which is just around the corner now. This is the season of work, vacations, and adventures for some, and fresh, new bear prints on the beach! Newly sprouting grass and waking bears are both showing up about two weeks earlier than usual this spring.

We are scrambling to overcome setbacks — some small, some not so small. Fuel needs to be hauled; pumps need new belts and filters. Fuel farm tanks still need preparations before the fuel barge shows up at our beachfront in about three weeks. The airstrip that serves the refueling site needs more compacting improvements; we are waiting for a few good rain showers to cut the dust that is already a problem, so early this spring.


A host of small and large tasks await us as we work through a long list of items, but the days don’t stop, and the timelines keep creeping up.

We will update as we can. Feel free to post questions.

(A GoFundMe page was set up to try to help Vic cover some of her critical financial losses following the death of her husband/partner.  Please read more at  and please donate to help her, if you can.  Any amount relieves some of her burdens to move forward and make a difference in re-fueling rural Alaska.)

Lost at Sea: Briggs Memorial update

May 2, 2016

In spite of facing deep financial setbacks since losing her husband last fall, Victoria Briggs is picking up the pieces, moving forward with her life, and making important business  preparations for her upcoming fishing and farming seasons.  She’s faced with getting her solar transformer repaired, high tunnels rebuilt after damaging winds blew off doors and ripped coverings, large fuel tanks cleaned and moved into place at her fuel farm, important welding work that is needed to move her boat from drydock and back into the river, and a host of other things that worry her as she faces this spring’s challenges alone without Roland.   She has some good news to report about wonderful volunteers helping her this week and wants to share it with us.


Angels Come to Help!!

I have been blessed a number of times by people who have come to help, even when I was out of town dealing with a family health issue. Sweet wives have lent their hubbies for a day or more, and some, like the most recent, have been able to come for a few days. Kids, actually hard-working young adults, have come to help when I first got home, and more blessings keep coming.

The most recent are two helpers from the Kenai area. They are helping me prepare for the fishing and farm crews that will start showing up next week.

We had a plan, actually several plans, to address getting supplies grouped and ready, picking up where others have left off, with getting my solar tracking panel operational after it was wind damaged, and a host of other things.

We are making progress, although getting sidetracked, at times, by fueling equipment issues. Overall, the season is about ready to start.

Solar panels connect to non-working tracker at base

Wiring pulled out of solar tracker control box during high winds – needs repair


large fuel tank to be moved and supported before barge comes end of month

                Very large fuel tank needs cleaning and re-positioning for use this season.  (55-gal drum in front, for size comparison)


high tunnel doors blown off need re-installation

High tunnel doors gone — needs repair and replacement

the broken HT doors need repair and re-installation

Doors blown off high tunnel — need work

boat trailer needs welder, tires, time

This boat trailer needs welding for use during the salmon fishing season.


tray of peppers needed to transplant

Peppers need transplanting SOON!

baby basil needs transplanting

Basil needs transplanting to a high tunnel SOON!


Lost at sea and now lost without him

April 25, 2016


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.

peb with neonpebble and rollie napping

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.

6-23-2011 0227-09-2011 0018-23-2012 and before 069winter day fixing wind turbines

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.

Rollieand BB....about 2005

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.

Locally grown strawberries

rollie with HIS raspberries and not just a fisherman BUT also a farmerfarmer and HIS corn

7-09-2011 014


A GoFundMe account has been set up at 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.

Thank you!

Please share, Alaskans especially!



October 27, 2011

I hope everyone has their calendar marked for tomorrow night’s premiere of the second season of “Flying Wild Alaska”.  As before, it runs on Fridays, and the new season commences this week on October 28th.   The show promises even more fun and flying excitement from the Tweto family headquartered in their hometown of Unalakleet, Alaska, and the pilots at Era Alaska.

I found this at the Discovery website:

Premiere: Oct 28, 2011

John Ponts fights heavy turbulence and angry passengers on a flight through the Nulato Hills. Jim and Ferno’s leave the terminal in the hands of the pilots and Sarah’s flight to rescue a villager lost in a storm turns into a battle for her own survival.

A couple of other links are “‘Flying Wild Alaska’ set to premiere season 2” which you can find here and, “What to expect in season two of ‘Flying Wild Alaska'” found here.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go stock up on some popcorn!

“Initiative would halt large-scale resource extraction”

March 12, 2011

Mar 12, 2011

Written by Margaret Bauman, “Bristol Bay Times“,  March 3rd, 2011

(Reprinted with permission of Alaska Newspapers Inc)

A petition application filed with Lake and Peninsula Borough seeks to halt any large-scale resource extraction activity, including mining, if that activity could destroy or degrade salmon.

The petition was filed yesterday in King Salmon by George Jacko, of Pedro Bay, lead sponsor of the “Save our Salmon” initiative, who said “this initiative is about giving a voice to the Alaskans who will be most affected by industrial development in Bristol Bay.”

“We need about 90 signatures; we’ll try to get more. We want it to be on the regular ballot in the fall,” Jacko said.

The borough now has 30 days to review the application, to be sure it is in order, and if everything is in order, they can then take a petition out to seek the needed signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, said Lamar Cotten, borough manager.

The stated purpose of the petition, signed by 24 people, is to protect salmon habitat from destruction or degradation during large scale mining activities within the borough. The signers include Robert Gillam, president and chief executive officer of McKinley Capital Management, an investment advisory company he founded in 1990. An avid sport fisherman, Gillam has had a home at Lake Clark for 27 years.

The petition notes the importance of salmon as a renewable resource which supports both the economy and subsistence lifestyle of borough residents. It calls for protections against any resource extraction activities that could have a significant adverse impact on wild salmon habitat or the sustained abundance of the wild salmon resource.

The initiative also calls for an opportunity for residents to obtain court review of any proposed development that could have a significant adverse impact on wild salmon habitat or the sustained abundance of the wild salmon resource.

The petition is the latest in a series of efforts to halt development of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, which spawns millions of sockeye salmon for the world’s largest wild red salmon run. Mine opponents say that scientific research has shown that the Pebble mine could cause major environmental pollution, spelling disaster for the Bristol Bay fishery, the economic anchor of the region.

Proponents of the mine maintain that mining and fisheries can co-exist.

In a speech today before more than 300 members of the Resource Development Council in Anchorage, Cynthia Carroll, chief executive officer of Anglo American, an international mining firm based in London, criticized outside interests opposed to the mine. “I want to make one thing absolutely clear: fish and mining can co-exist,” she said. Anglo America is a partner in the Pebble Partnership, which is doing exploration on the Pebble mine.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at, or by phone at 907-348-2438

How do they DO that in all that cold up there?

October 20, 2010

Oct 20, 2010

Maybe you recall a while back when we discussed one of the OTHER Cold Climate Housing Research Center houses.  It was built in another remote area of Alaska in Anaktuvuk Pass, above the Arctic Circle.  Recently, I decided to take another look at the CCHRC site and see what new info might be found there since the Anaktuvuk house was occupied:

“Data is collected to help improve the understanding of the various building systems incorporated into the house and the various climate conditions in Anaktuvuk Pass.”

I quickly became confused trying to figure out how the fresh air coming into the Anaktuvuk house was 68 degrees F (?)

I checked the air temps at for that community, which took me to the area forecast for “Northeastern Brooks Range”.  On the day I searched, I saw 5 above, 10 above, etc., and I clicked on a link to Anaktuvuk Pass.  The numbers there, too, are quite low.  So, how was the Anaktuvuk house getting 68 degrees of warm air in it?!

The site has various graphs that express a number of kinds of data.  After a bit more careful reading at the CCRHC site, I learned the following info on how smart these guys are who built this house in that harsh land:

1) “The following plots show the air temperature that enters the house through the fresh air intake (top graph) in the front of the house. For comparison, the intake air temperature from the house to the onsite sewage treatment plant (STP) designed by Lifewater Engineering Company is shown in the bottom graph. Air brought into the house through the passive vent system is warmed up in the attic, before entering living spaces. Using warm air from the house for input into the STP helps keep it warm and saves energy.”  (Wow, these guys are so far advanced over ordinary home building!)

2) “The following plots show the temperature in the attic space in the house. Passive heat exchange occurs in this area and portions of water supply utilities are located in this warm space, saving space in the main portion of the home.”  (I love it!)

3) “The following plots show the difference between temperatures inside and outside the house. Staying warm and comfortable inside while extreme Arctic winters dominate winter months is a critical design issue for Alaskan housing.”  (These researchers and home builders are just amazing.)

Please refer to their site for more information at

When the CCHRC comes out with new prototypes, I might as well fire up the popcorn and settle into a comfy chair to read and learn the latest news.  The great things they are doing, in conjunction with the local communities seeking their housing research assistance, is some of the best stuff going on the Intertubes today!

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.


Clean hot and cold running water, flush toilets, hot showers? It’s “a lock” for some Alaskan citizens

September 21, 2009

Sep 21, 2009

Like other states, many of Alaska’s citizens live in modern cities with all the conveniences thereof.  However, hundreds of other families live a subsistence existence, unable to even get fresh water piped directly into their homes.  They also do not enjoy a waste water sewage system that carries human waste away from their homes.

In too many villages, the rural people use buckets to haul fresh water back to their homes from a single community spigot of treated water.  These same villagers will usually have some kind of community “sewage lagoon” or bunkers to which they haul from their homes their 5-gallon buckets of human waste and into which they dump the smelly, unhealthy contents.

Pediatric illness is higher among these residents who lack fresh, treated water piped into their homes and who lack the ordinary waste water and sewer services of much of the rest of Alaska.  In other words, living like that is bad for babies and other children and the rest of the families, as well.

However, in Alaska, one group of people is guaranteed certain basic, human, civil rights.  In their “quarters”, so to speak, lighting, ventilation and temperatures must be carefully maintained.  The law mandates, in each living space, they must be provided one sink with hot and cold running water and an adequate working toilet. Showers must be located nearby with water temperatures maintained at 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Under certain conditions, these people have access to free cable t.v. service, with one t.v. allowed in their “quarters”.  The law also guarantees them free computer usage under certain conditions as part of their education, employment or vocational training.

I’m sure you have figured this out:

According to state law, the Alaska Department of Corrections must meet certain levels of care for its incarcerated population.

Law-abiding rural Alaskans are not guaranteed these same rights.  The citizens of many Alaskan communities continue to use honey buckets in their homes, in lieu of waste water systems, and the contents must be laboriously hauled away to be dumped in “sewage lagoons”, etc.

Can you visualize the prison population being forced to do this?  Well, maybe not, because those primitive living conditions for state prisoners are AGAINST state law.

And, if a prisoner had to tote his own water from one spigot in the prison yard somewhere, back to his own cell, for his personal drinking and bathing, it would constitute cruel and unusual treatment. That, too, is against state law.

And, piped-in hot showers?  Well, of course, prisoners are guaranteed hot showers.  Absolutely.

How many Alaska prisons have leaky ceilings where rainwater drips down inside the cells? And how many of those residents suffer asthma and other breathing problems from mold due to bad ventilation and chronically wet interior conditions?  That, too, would never be tolerated with all the legal rights afforded the incarcerated in Alaska, but it’s happening today in who-knows-how-many rural homes.

If you are INCARCERATED in Alaska, substandard housing, honey buckets, hauling potable water home in buckets, and cold, damp, moldy living conditions are AGAINST THE LAW.

Something to think about…

What is a “Remote Wall”, and why do we care?

September 21, 2009

Sep 21, 2009

Alaska’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) is aligned with Alaska home builders in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.   Their mission is to promote and advance “the development of healthy, durable and sustainable shelter for Alaskans and other circumpolar people through applied research”.  Much of their research is being tested today in a new Research and Testing Facility (RTF) built on the university’s campus in Fairbanks.  Improved building standards and techniques will lead to better quality, cold climate, energy-efficient homes.

The RTF in Fairbanks “is a living laboratory with nearly 1,000 sensors incorporated into the building” that addresses “real-world building problems by testing built-in components under real environmental conditions as well as in controlled laboratory situations.”

The cold climate housing researchers have a great video about the RTF, their research, and their findings.  If you are interested in learning more about cold climate housing construction techniques, just click on the video link at  Various building aspects of cold climate foundations, roofs, and much more are discussed, as well as a mention of Alaska’s five different climate zones, with their individual construction issues.  Here are just a few bits of info gleaned from their video:

Unlike ordinary house construction that has insulation and a vapor barrier on the INSIDE of the framed wall, the cold climate house has a “remote wall” with rigid insulation board and a vapor barrier located OUTSIDE the ordinary framework of the house.  This remote wall protects the house from cold and moisture which, otherwise, leads to condensation and mold.  The remote wall construction also increases the structure’s ability to retain warmth. It’s a much better design for the Alaska winters.

Potable water is used for drinking and washing in the RTF, then reused as “gray water” for flushing toilets, which yields “black water”.  The black water is then treated in a sewage treatment plant on-site, which brings the black water back to a gray water standard again, whereby it is reused.

They have taken 1,000-year old technology and are using it to heat their modern RTF building: a high-efficiency masonry stove burns hot, then radiates the heat efficiently by using old technology that works well today.

The researchers have come up with new formulas for concrete.  They know how to maximize the use of local concrete-making material used in construction so that it sets faster and cures better in colder temperatures.  This extends the building season, saving money, while it also reduces the need to heat the area around the newly poured concrete, thus saving MORE money.

Shoot, just go check out the video.  It’s encouraging to know that Alaskan researchers are implementing their findings not only in the new Sustainable Northern Shelter home completed in Anaktuvuk Pass, but are also starting to work in conjunction with some other rural Alaskan communities to build more new homes that combine the best of a community’s old ways with new technology.  It’s a step in the right direction for our rural friends!

What if someone could build an energy-efficient home in the far north for $150,000?

September 20, 2009

Sep 20, 2009

They did. It’s called the “Sustainable Northern Shelter”.

Jim Crawford referenced the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation in his commentary, “Creating a new vision for housing in Alaska” (Sept. 16). Apparently, the AHFC works with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) based in Fairbanks.

This summer, CCHRC’s new “Sustainable Northern Shelter”(SNS), a 1,000 square foot house, was built on-site in Anaktuvuk Pass in far northern Alaska for less than $150,000 in about four weeks.  That total cost included shipping all the materials to the community on one DC-6 airplane.  Click  HERE!

The home, an “energy-efficient, culturally-based, and environmentally-appropriate building”, is expected to require only 110 gallons of fuel a year, instead of the customary 1,400 gallons or more. The self-contained sewage treatment plant buried behind the home uses exhausted air from the bathroom to treat waste, which is then leeched into the ground.

For an interesting slide show about this house, click HERE!

“The basic construction method…involves a light steel frame structure with an interior plywood skin. A soy-based, polyurethane insulation with an r-60 is applied to this framework. This insulated layer is covered by a spray-applied coating, which is durable, waterproof, and resilient. Earth-banking and a sod roof are used to buffer the structure from strong winds and drifting snow. The home makes use of natural lighting, water conservation, and other energy-saving techniques. To further reduce the home’s need for costly energy, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council installed solar panels and will be adding a wind power system to produce renewable energy.”

Other articles on the same house can be found in two parts with photos at PART ONE and PART TWO

More excerpts from the links:

“Like traditional sod homes, the prototype house is bermed into the soil for insulation and a wind buffer. The foundation is 2 feet of gravel fill topped with a synthetic waterproof membrane that supports the home’s light frame.”

“The walls are technically inside-out. The frame is made of metal studs sandwiched between half-inch sheets of plywood. Soy-foam insulation, which would go inside the frame of a Lower 48 house, encases the frame here in Anaktuvuk Pass. As a final layer, a 1-inch coating of elastomeric liner, the same material used in truck bedliners, forms a tough waterproof shell.”

“In this climate, the insulation should go on the outside not the inside because of the condensation point,” says Judith Grunau, designer of the project. “You get moisture problems when the cold meets the warm. The insulation has so much R-value (thermal resistance) that the cold doesn’t ever meet the warm.”