Despite tanker-loads of fuel sitting nearby, the tiny, far-flung community of Adak on Sunday was on the brink of running out of diesel to power its town generator, a situation that has prompted officials to black out power and ask citizens to leave the Aleutian community.
Locals say the problem is that the city owes more than $500,000 in energy costs to fuel distributor Aleut Enterprise, and, in response, the subsidiary of Aleut Corp. has refused to sell more fuel to the city.
"There's a million gallons of fuel here in town, but the city is going to be out of fuel," said Dave Fraser, who handles government relations for Adak Fisheries, which is also tangled in the affair. "There's numerous things going on here. It's not a simple situation."
Part of the reason the city can't afford to pay is the skyrocketing cost of diesel. Another part is that Adak Fisheries has been unable to pay the city hundreds of thousands of dollars -- the exact amount is in dispute -- it owes for electricity costs, Fraser said.
The reason for nonpayment is that quotas on king crab and an influx in floating fish processors in the area in recent years have meant hard times for the company, he said.
These days, there have been hard times for the city.
"The city is now subjected to cycling blackouts twice a day, providing power to homes and businesses for 4-5 hours in the morning, and 3 hours in the evening," Victoria Bennett, a medic at the town clinic, said in an e-mail.
Physicians were blaming the power outages for worsening one man's medical condition. The man, who needs to use respiratory equipment at home, was unable to do so without power and had to be medevaced from Adak last week after suffering from respiratory and cardiac distress, Dr. Robert Adams said in an e-mail.
"It is beyond my comprehension that such a situation like this can occur in an American city," Adams said.
Fraser said there was only about 100 gallons of fuel left in the city's tanks as of Sunday afternoon, and that would likely be gone -- with rationing -- by sometime this morning. Private citizens can still buy fuel from Aleut for personal generators, he said, and some residents were planning to organize "bucket brigades" to haul fuel they pay cash for to city tanks, which are critical for incoming supply flights and emergency services.
In addition to the blackouts, city officials were considering use of small generators at teachers' homes so they could hold classes there, Fraser said. In a flier sent out Friday, city officials urged people who do not need to be there to leave the town of 136 people on Kuluk Bay on Adak Island, some 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The city council was planning to meet with Aleut officials today to negotiate an agreement the corporation offered -- an agreement that still has some details to be ironed out, Fraser said.
City manager and police chief Steven Hines said Aleut Corp. had directed him not to comment on the situation. Members of the city council likewise declined to comment, saying a clause in the pending agreement barred them from complaining publicly about Aleut's services.
Phone messages left with Aleut Corp. were not returned Sunday.
Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.