Empire editorial: In time of hardship, find ways to help

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2008

More than two weeks after avalanches cut Juneau off from its primary source of cheap electricity, here's how we're handling the resulting energy crisis as a community:

Juneau residents are taking a reasonable, rational, proactive approach to circumstances that will be financially devastating for many of us as rates for electricity supplied by Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. skyrocket for the next 90 days.

At just about every residence, business and public facility in town, lights are burning as little as possible, all but the most necessary of appliances and machinery have been unplugged, and many are learning to read again as many a television has fallen silent.

The fact that we're keeping our heads about us is perhaps the best news in all of this.

The Juneau Assembly on Thursday did exactly the right thing in approving $3 million in grants and loans that will be made available to those families and small businesses that are at most financial risk.

The money will be administered to families through the United Way of Southeast Alaska and Catholic Community Services, and to small businesses through the Juneau Economic Development Council. Another $250,000 is being made available to the city manager's office for energy conservation measures that will be implemented locally.

No state or federal disaster aid will be forthcoming after Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday followed the recommendation of her Disaster Policy Cabinet and made no declaration of a local disaster. The news came as no surprise as we'd known for a week or longer that the avalanches at Snettisham, while an economic nightmare, didn't meet the state's criteria for the sort of disaster experienced by way of a tsunami, hurricane or tornado.

Community assistance could still be forthcoming, however, just not in the form of disaster relief aid.

The governor's office and Alaska's congressional delegation are exploring other sources of state and federal assistance, but specifics of those aren't yet known.

Late last week, AEL&P was working on contingencies for customers who will be hardest pressed to pay power bills higher than they could ever have imagined. Early last week, the utility company said it had no plans in place for providing financial assistance to its customers, so it's good to see that good-faith efforts to ease the pain of both residential and commercial customers may be in the offing.

Mayor Bruce Botelho, speaking at the weekly luncheon of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, said that while Juneau had been denied a declaration of disaster at the state level, the community will weather this storm and will be all the better for having done so.

What Botelho said, specifically, is that Juneau will have to be its own knight in shining armor in working its way through this crisis. Businesses, residents and governmental entities will conserve, will tighten their belts, and will persevere. We'll make it through this together, he said, and we'll all be better for having done so.

Think about it: Juneau is finding it fairly easy to unite behind this common cause, and how refreshing is that when we'd otherwise remain divided by so many other causes that have festered - and will continue to fester - for years?

Let's take our mayor's encouragement to heart, and take it to mean that by the end of summer we will be, as a community, better able to meet even greater challenges as successfully as we will have this one.

In the meantime, each of us needs to know that in our midst there are many who need our help. If at all possible, find a way or ways to help - whether directly or indirectly - someone who otherwise may not make it through this most difficult of economic times.

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