New Egegik administrator moves family of 4 to village of 27
The school in Egegik closed down two years ago when the number of children living in the village dropped below 10 — the minimum required for state funded education. Since then, most families have moved out and some of the elderly community members have passed on, leaving only 27 people wintering in the village last year. The transient population surges to over a thousand each summer with the influx of seasonal fisherman and fish processors, but Egegik has no public education, no law enforcement and no stores.
Don Strand is retiring next month, after working as the Egegik city administrator for more than a decade. During his tenure, Strand's emphasis has been on building up Egegik's infrastructure, with the hope of creating jobs and housing for new families to move in to. Recent additions in Egegik include an incinerator unit, a power plant, and four houses.
Strand has also reserved funds from the city's 3 percent tax on the fishing industry to pay for next year's budget.
"Our fishing money normally comes in at the back of the year," said Strand. "If we were relying on that money for the year, and all of a sudden fishing had a bad year, it would not be a pleasant scenario. There would have to be some real quick emergency decisions made, and having the money ahead of time gives us time to absorb that and make decisions not on a knee jerk basis."
Strand's replacement is Bill Yost. Yost recently moved his family of four to Egegik from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, as part a search to find an environment agreeable with his oldest daughter's health.
Eighteen-year-old Sarah Yost suffers from a rare condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which gives her symptoms similar to fibromyalgia, but is brought on by wireless radiation. She feels ill in areas concentrated with wireless internet, cellphones and cellphone towers.
The Yost family traveled the country for the better part of the last two years, searching for a place far enough removed from modern technologies, where Sara could feel healthy.
"You could say we were refugees in our own country for a while," said Sara. "It seems like, oh yeah, it's really easy to find some place out in the middle of nowhere, but really with the way that our society is progressing so quickly with all this modern technology, it's getting very difficult to find any sort of safe zone."
Egegik seems to be agreeing with Sara. The often spotty wireless internet and cellphone reception in the area has not had the same adverse effect on her health she experienced in other parts of the country.
The people of Egegik are welcoming the Yosts. While Strand is a community leader who will be missed by many, several residents have expressed a positive first impression of Yost and his family.
"When we learned he (Strand) was retiring, we were kind of sad in a way," said Paul Buskoffsky, a local fisherman and writer who has spent most of his life in Egegik, and now works the winter months at the Alaska General Seafood plant in Naknek. "We found and spoke to Bill, who's taking his place. It sounds like he's going to work out pretty well, because, to me, he's a people person, and that's what we need here."
Strand is confident in Yost as a replacement, but says there isn't one answer to bringing back a year-round population base to Egegik.
"There's pretty limited business opportunities with small population areas," said Strand. "The fewer people you have the less businesses you can have."
Yost is working directly with Strand to facilitate a smooth transition. Yost acknowledges the challenges ahead of him, but is glad to have settled his family in a small, quiet town that seems to be agreeing with Sara's health.
"Those are some unique conditions that we have right now, and changing that is going to take some creative ideas," said Yost. "Being so new to the community, I'm still trying to gauge things."
Yost takes over the job as Egegik city manager next month when Strand retires. Strand says he plans to move to King Salmon at the end of his tenure.