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What's it take to reduce rural Alaska fuel costs?

Tommy WellsThe Arctic Sounder

NOORVIK – Bill Williams has no shortage of things to do when he rolls out of bed every morning. The Weatherization Project supervisor in Noorvik, he and his crew are part of an Alaska Housing Finance Corp. program that is making weatherization and home improvements to home in the Kobuk River Valley communities of Noorvik and Kiana.

In all, more than 50 homes are being remodeled to improve weatherization conditions and to help reduce the cost of heating.

"Fuel can get pretty pricey out here," said Williams. "It's around $7 a gallon out here, so it doesn't take too long to start adding up. When it gets 40 below and you are using 5 gallons of fuel a day to stay warm, you can do the math."

The AHFC weatherization program is designed to help Alaskans reduce their fuel consumptions by winterizing and upgrading homes. AHFC has indicated it would like to reduce rural fuel usage by half over the coming years.

"I think this is great," said Shirlene Sampson. "It will really help people. We are short of homes here, so anything we can do to make one better is good."

Williams said approximately 30 homes in Noorvik and 24 more in Kiana were part of the project, which also received some funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants and the National Indian Health Association.

Williams said houses in the two villages had to be approved for the work based on a lengthy process that included a blow test and an infrared camera that detected air leaks. Once approved, each home was eligible for up to $30,000, based on a computerized formula to determine need.

In addition to improving living conditions, the project also has an added benefit for residents of Noorvik and Kiana. It brought money.

Williams said he currently employs a force of 20-24 people, mostly from the village.

"This helps people with their houses, but it also puts a lot of money into the village economy," said Williams. "It's good for everyone."

Williams said the weatherization project will move to two other NANA villages next summer.

This article was originally published in The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission.