Mike Williams has spent 53 winters in Alaska, most of them in Valdez where he operates the Totem Inn. His father built the Inn in 1972. It started as 24 rooms but then expanded to 70. Mike says he's glad for the winters because "if every summer was like this summer, Valdez would be like California (and) everybody would live here."
Williams is a pilot and has traveled extensively but, to him, there is no place prettier than Valdez. He says it does have some challenges. "Really the biggest challenge for both businesses and residents in Valdez is the cost of energy, especially for communities outside the rail belt,” Williams said. It has a crippling effect on businesses, he said, and people that are on a fixed income trying to pay their electric bill in the winter time now pay an increased price for heating fuel of $4.00 a gallon up from $0.99.
Valdez also struggles as a "bedroom community" because so much of the work force doesn't live there full time. He says most of the pipeline workers are only there to sleep and work for two weeks, and then they leave for two weeks.
"When they go back to their communities, that's where they volunteer for United Way and other charitable organizations," he said.
He says it creates a void in Valdez because those people don't take part in the issues in the community.
If you ever visit Valdez, here's a suggestion from Williams "park your car walk around and talk to people … and you will have a great day."