State officials say census numbers on target - almost

Some of Alaska's tiny towns pose problems for counters

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2001

ANCHORAGE - The census people flew into Hobart Bay last year, stayed for 15 minutes and then took off again.

No wonder they counted wrong.

Hobart Bay, population three? Not quite.

"That's too many people," said Dave Jorgenson, doing a stint as weekend relief watchman in the logging camp 70 miles south of Juneau. "Actually there's only one person here. There's usually a guy by the name of Dennis."

That would be Dennis Cropley, the regular watchman, who guards a shop and a handful of modular homes and trailers. Jorgenson, 46, used to live in Hobart Bay, but he moved to Juneau last year when the logging dried up. So did the other 45 or so people who used to call Hobart Bay home.

"You kinda have to have somebody here in case somebody does come by, to keep stuff from walking off," Jorgenson said.

Hobart Bay isn't unique. The Census Bureau reported 55 communities around the country had a population of 10 or fewer in the 2000 count. Seven are in Alaska: Hobart Bay, Flat, Prudhoe Bay, Alpine, Chisana, Lime Village and Pope-Vannoy Landing.

Some residents of low-population towns and villages Outside raised a stink about undercounts. Indeed, officials acknowledge that at least 3 million people were missed this time around.

But the census numbers appear pretty accurate here, state officials say.

Alaska has lots of dots on the map that aren't really towns - oil fields, logging or mining camps, and abandoned and seasonal villages.

Look at Prudhoe Bay, an industrial megalopolis of 5,000 workers who crank out nearly a quarter of the country's oil supply but call someplace else home.

The only glaring census error in Alaska was in Lime Village, said Greg Williams, Alaska's state demographer, who was sworn in last year as a census official to double-check accuracy.

Roughly 62 people live in Lime Village, an Athabaskan subsistence settlement on the south bank of the Stony River, 50 miles southeast of its junction with the Kuskokwim River. But the census shows only six.

The mistake apparently happened as the raw numbers moved from Alaska to Seattle to California to the Washington, D.C., Beltway.

Some of the places in the census aren't really towns at all. Alpine, the oil field west of Prudhoe Bay, showed up in the census because the North Slope Borough can count oil field workers for bonding purposes and wanted to see how many people officially called Alpine home.

The result? Zero.

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