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AK Beat: Dry cabins still big part of life in Fairbanks

Alaska Dispatch News

Dry cabins remain way of life in Fairbanks: The number of residences lacking complete plumbing, a.k.a. “dry cabins,” hasn’t changed much in Fairbanks since 1970, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s August Economic Trends report. A “significant part of the population” live in dry cabins in the Interior community, according to the report, with nearly 2,200 homes in the Fairbanks North Star Borough lacking complete plumbing, and 1,800 homes lacking a complete kitchen. Fairbanksans choose to live in dry cabins for a variety of reasons, from lifestyle choices -- the report calls it the “cabin experience” -- to financial reasons. For more than 40 years, Fairbanks has remained relatively stable in its percentage of dry cabins, dropping from 6.5 percent in 1970 to 6.1 percent today. That's nearly eight times the national average for homes lacking such amenities, the report states. By contrast, the statewide percentage of Alaskans living without complete plumbing dropped from 13.8 percent in 1970 to 4.7 percent today.

Alone among oil states, only Alaska's economy shrinks: In six U.S. states, the mining sector, which includes oil and gas extraction, makes up more than 10 percent of the economy. Five of those state economies saw better-than-average growth, and growth within the sector, reports oil and gas industry site Fuel Fix; the lone outlier was Alaska. “Alaska, where mining makes up the second-largest share of any state’s total economic activity, was the exception,” Fuel Fix reported. “Alaska actually saw mining activity decrease over the past decade as oil production slid on the state’s North Slope, according to the EIA report. Similarly, Alaska’s total gross domestic product fell 2.5 percent in 2013, the largest slide in the U.S.” The news comes as the Wall Street Journal reports that Alaska “an unexpected loser” in “[t]he energy boom sweeping North America.” The WSJ report noted the story of a Soldotna oil-field worker, who, after decades of working in Alaska, began to travel to North Dakota for work for the first time last fall. As the Journal notes, Alaska has slipped to fourth place in oil production, eclipsed by both North Dakota, and, more recently, California.

Are we ready for wifi in the woods? For DJ Spooky, a Manhattan-based musician and National Geographic emerging explorer, the diversion of his bush plane to Arctic Village after weather turned the Aichilik River-bound charter back, represented one last chance to connect to the Internet, at the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s offices. But as The Atlantic’s Jason Mark reports, the absence of wifi that greeted the travelers once they finally arrived in the Brooks Range backcountry might soon be a thing of the past: “[T]he opportunity to fully disconnect might be at risk thanks to the steady expansion of advanced telecommunications,” Mark writes. “Earlier this summer Parks Canada announced it is bringing wifi to its visitor centers, and the United States National Park Service isn’t far behind. … More ambitiously, [Google] is laying plans to extend connectivity to the world’s farthest hinterlands. Google is expected to spend between $1 billion and $3 billion to deploy a fleet of some 180 mini satellites that will provide an Internet signal from the sky.”

Palin tries parody -- or somethin': Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin launched an attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and the minimum wage on the newly premiered Sarah Palin Network, and it has some wondering if maybe the 49th state's most famous politician was trying to parody The Onion, a website known for satirizing the news. The Chicago Sun Times, apparently taking Palin's rambling monologue seriously, labeled it "totally incoherent."  But it's always possible the Wonder From Wasilla was trying to play her comments for comedic effect when she joked of "fast food joints'' being "like of the Devil or somethin'. I was. Liberals, you want to send those evil employees who would dare work at a fast food joint, then ya just don’t believe in, thought you wanted to, I dunno, send them to Purgatory or somethin’ so they all go VEGAN and, uh, wages and picket lines. I dunno. They’re not often discussed in Purgatory, are they? I dunno. Why are you even worried about fast food wages...?'' A video has been posted on YouTube for those who want the whole Palin.