FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Sen. Ted Stevens is urging the Clinton administration to immediately release $30 million in federal aid to western Alaska villages. The money would allow residents to buy heating fuel before cold weather sets in.
''Without the ability to purchase fuel now, these villages will face unconscionable disasters during winter months,'' Stevens said in a news release Thursday.
The Alaska Republican said he has told Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and other federal officials about this year's poor salmon runs in western Alaska, and that residents there may be too cash-strapped to buy enough diesel fuel to get through winter.
Stevens said he told them Western Alaska rivers start freezing up in September, so time was critical in getting fuel barges to hard-hit villages before snowfall.
''Without the ability to purchase fuel now, these villages will face unconscionable disasters during winter months,'' Stevens said.
Congress has approved the money as part of a $600 million emergency package now awaiting the president's signature.
Jim Sanders, a regional manager with the state Department of Community and Economic Development, said there's some precedent for the request.
Disaster assistance was made available for people along the Yukon River from its mouth to the Canada border following the 1998 salmon run collapse, Sanders said. It also was available for people living along the Kuskokwim River from its mouth up to Stony River, he said.
The disastrous returns also hit Bristol Bay that year.
Bristol Bay appears to be in good shape this summer, but communities around Norton Sound, from Stebbins to Nome, have seen poor runs, Sanders told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Stevens wants $30 million released immediately to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Sanders said people would apply to different organizations for the money, depending upon their location.
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