Statewide Briefs

Alaska veterans get a
reversal on a reversal
The lives of 25 elderly Alaska Natives are
currently of great interest to politicians around
the nation.
In mid-January it came to the state’s
attention that the Department of Defense was
planning to cease military retirement pay to 25
Alaska Native Elders on Feb. 1.
The 25 men are the only remaining veterans
of the Alaska Territorial Guard of World War II.
They were part of an uncompensated volunteer
force of 6,389 Alaskans that protected the state
while the AK National Guard was deployed.
Many of the veterans were slated to lose
an income in excess of $500 a month. All are
in their 80s or 90s and live in very remote Bush
villages. To cut their funds in the middle of winter
would be more than just insult.
On Jan. 22, Sen.’s Lisa Murkowski and Mark
Begich, and Congressman Don Young wrote
to President Obama, asking him to please
resolve the situation. Five days later, Gov. Sarah
Palin wrote a similar letter, and within a day, a
response came down. Secretary of the Army
Pete Geren issued a decision to continue the
retirement payments for the time being.
It will take a congressional fi x to fully
reinstate the veterans’ pay.
Consideration for more AK
roads to rural areas
During her State of the State Address in
January, Gov. Sarah Palin declared a hiring
freeze for state employees, noting a potential
budget shortfall this year upwards of $1 billion.
At the same time, however, the governor
declared that she was actively pursuing roads.
Palin announced her plan to commission
preliminary work on a road to Umiat, an
unincorporated community of approximately 20
people up in the North Slope region. Umiat is a
central place of study for global climate change,
but a road to it would mean greater accessibility
to the state’s natural resources.
“We need access to our resources,” Palin
said in her State of the State Address. “We need
jobs for income and achievement. Responsible
resource development. means more jobs.”
Palin said she fully intended to see a road
to Nome constructed. The road to Nome is not
an entirely new idea. There has been talk of of
a road to Nome for more than 5 decades. The
timing of such talk right now, however, has
some legislators scratching their heads. The
proposed 500 mi road to Nome could possibly
cost $2 billion. With the national economy in dire
straights, and the state economy looking at $1
billion shortfall, more roads make less sense to
some.
Relief in small doses for
hardest hit villages
During the month of January, news of the
hardships Alaskans in the YK Delta area are
facing this winter made its way around the
nation. Politicians began making speeches and
loose promises as their constituents embarked
on letter writing campaigns and donation drives.
Food and clothing donations have been
sent to those villages hardest hit, but they
cannot make up for the lack of heat. Many of
the villages bought their heating fuel prior to
the onset of winter, while the prices were still
astronomically high, averaging $8 per gallon. For
many, either their fuel has run out, or their funds
for more fuel have.
State offi cials have descended on the region
to hear testimonies from villagers and are now
promising to push for fuel vouchers to assist the
poorest families. In the meantime, village leaders
are pushing for Gov. Sarah Palin to declare a
state of emergency to more rapidly allocate
relief.
Gold discovery could be
among world’s largest
A gold discovery north of Fairbanks is among
the largest worldwide in 10 years, said a mining
exploration company.
International Tower Hill Mines Ltd. updated
its reserves estimate on land about 70 miles
north of Fairbanks, the state’s second largest
city.
The new estimate puts the fi nd at 5 million
ounces of gold, but company president Jeffrey
Pontius says that additional exploring could
push the fi gure to 10 million ounces.
“We have found a really exceptional
concentration of gold that Mother Nature put out
there,” he said. “That’s a tremendous thing.”
It will also take additional exploration to learn
how much of the gold can be economically
recovered, and to determine the recovery
method.
Drilling will continue this winter. Economic
estimates to determine how to mine the gold
could be ready by July Pontius said.