Fierce monofill fight far from finished

Monday, August 19, 2013 - 07:29

Emotions continue to run high in the battle over a proposal to develop an inert waste landfill in Chugiak.

After three hours of public testimony on the matter Monday, Aug. 12, the Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission continued its public hearing until after a work session scheduled for Monday, Aug. 19 can be completed. Commissioners said they want more time to hear from developers about their long-term plans for the site where the so-called “monofill” would be located.

“I think it’s important we have a game plan marching forward,” said commissioner Jim Fergusson.

The commission’s decision followed an evening of sometimes emotional testimony from the public, the vast majority of whom were Chugiak residents opposed to the landfill. Those opposing the monofill cited increased truck traffic and potential water pollution as major issues, along with the potential for lower property values and an overall decrease of quality of life in the area.

“More trucks on that road won’t do anybody any good,” said Michael Connelly, a fifth-grader who lives in Chugiak.

Chugiak’s Scott Girard has been a vocal opponent of the monofill for several months. Girard testified that he thinks approval of the monofill would set a dangerous precedent for future industrial development.

“What other land uses will follow after approval of the dump?” Girard asked.

Girard said he fears a monofill would “forever change the character of the area and the neighborhood.”

There are two separate issues before PNZ regarding the 68-acre site located off Kerbow Lane. The first is an application by Eklutna, Inc. for approval of a master plan for the area, which is zoned as Planned Community. Property owners are given wide latitude to come up with their own master plans in PC zones, but must get approval from the commission.

Commission members said because Eklutna’s plans for the rest of its landholdings near the site have thus far been vague, it’s unclear just how the Native corp. plans to develop the area.

“I just want to know how this fits with their whole picture,” Fergusson said.

As for the monofill itself, Eklutna is asking for a conditional use permit to operate the site along with Central Recycling Services. Eklutna and CRS officials testified that concerns about the monofill’s environmental impact on the surrounding area have been overblown and that they’ve worked to address issues with neighborhood residents.

“We do respect all the opinions of folks,” said Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen.

CRS owner Stewart Jacques said his company has been doing business in Alaska for 28 years and would never risk its reputation by creating a hazardous site.

“We have too much to lose,” Jacques said.

The men said the monofill will bring an average of 12 truck trips (one trip being in and out of the site) to Kerbow Lane and that they’ll install water quality monitoring wells. CRS has also said it would halt operations on windy days and that the open dumpsite would be covered each day after operations cease.

But monofill opponents didn’t seem interested in mitigation efforts by CRS and Eklutna. Instead, those who testified in opposition to the plan said they simply don’t want the dump in Chugiak.

“This project does not belong in anybody’s back yard,” said Chugiak’s Tamiah Liebersbach.

Chugiak Community Council president Ted Carlson said neighborhood residents believe the monofill doesn’t fit with efforts to make the area more livable.

“We are trying to clean up Chugiak out there,” said Carlson.

The Chugiak Community Council earlier this year passed a resolution against the monofill site.

Opponents say the monofill would be too close to well-used community areas such as Loretta French Park, the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center, CCS Early Learning and Chugiak Elementary.

“This is just the wrong location for that monofill,” neighborhood resident Scott Gerlach testified.

CRS currently uses the Anchorage Municipal Landfill to dump the inert material (pictured on page 2), which is made up of ground-up construction debris left after CRS removes usable recyclable materials. The company says it needs the monofill site to make its operations more economical.

Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recylcling (ALPAR) executive director Mary Fisher testified in favor of the monofill. Fisher said the plan is in keeping with the current trend in recycling practices nationwide, which is moving toward getting inert debris out of traditional landfills.

“We strongly support the monofill operation that is proposed,” Fisher said.

Sally Tilton said economics are why she’s opposed to the idea. She thinks CRS and Eklutna just want to make a buck at the expense of Chugiakers.

“I think the bottom line is it’s all about the money and not about the people,” she said.

Public testimony was overwhelmingly against the monofill. Of the roughly 30 people who testified, just three individuals spoke in favor of the proposal. Opponents also presented a petition which they said had more than 787 signatures against the monofill.

Longtime Chugiak resident Fred Riesing, who lives across the Old Glenn from Kerbow Lane, said the purpose of the municipality’s recent Title 21 land use code update was to let local residents determine how they want their neighborhoods to look. The volume of opposition, he said, proves the dump site isn’t a good fit.

“That should tell you what people want for their Title 21 and it’s not the monofill,” he said.

Eagle River High student Maddie Corbett said she’s in favor of the monofill proposal. She said she thinks CRS has done a good job of explaining the plan and doesn’t think residents’ concerns are justified.

“I’m not seeing the same arguments,” Corbett testified.

Corbett knew she was in the minority Monday night, and the 16-year-old said she left the meeting before public testimony closed because she didn’t feel comfortable around some of the more vocal monofill opponents. Following a previous PNZ meeting on the proposal, Corbett said she was shouted down by people who told her she “didn’t have my facts straight.”

Despite the unpleasant experience, Corbett said she continues to support the monofill because she thinks it will help recycling efforts in the area. And criticism she’s received has only strengthened her resolve to continue speaking out, she said.

“It makes me feel it’s more necessary to come out and speak about this,” she said.

PNZ’s work session on the matter will be held Monday, Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in Assembly Chambers at the Loussac Library. The meeting is open to the public.

(Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Michael Connelly as a middle school student. He will be a fifth grader this fall.)

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