Not so cooperative

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 19:00

Matanuska Electric Association might have followed the required guidelines informing the public of its plan to upgrade a substation off Birchwood Loop — but the full scope of the project wasn’t clearly communicated.

Adding a second, 2,500-square-foot building to its lot is one thing.

But purchasing the neighboring parcel, clearcutting every tree, hauling in truckloads of dirt to raise the foundation, building a substation 18 times larger than the existing one, erecting two, 42-foot towers and surrounding it all by fencing and floodlights — that’s a whole different story.

And one the residents should have been informed about.

MEA spokesperson Kevin Brown said, “We’ve done everything we can to make sure we’re clear and communicating with people on what we’re talking about.”

So why was one adjoining property owner shocked when he looked out his back window to find the once heavily wooded area replaced with dirt?

More than one neighbor has said they felt misled by MEA.

Residents choose to live in the Chugiak-Eagle River area for several reasons. One of them being a rural lifestyle with large lots.

Why would anyone sign off on a project that would diminish not only the scenic value but also the economic value of living north of Anchorage?

They wouldn’t.

Unless they were presented with a less-than-truthful description of the project.

The utility chalked it up to a misunderstanding. Even if that’s true, it’s a poor excuse.

How can anyone decide if they’re in favor or opposed to something if all the facts aren’t presented?

This isn’t the first time local residents have been upset with MEA’s lack of communication.

Two years ago, Brendlwood subdivision homeowners were angered when the utility removed trees in close proximity to its transformers. Neighbors reported having just a few days notice before workers chopped down what had been part of their property for decades.

Clearing helps prevent outages in the frigid winter months, MEA said.

No argument here. Everyone expects their lights to turn on when they flip the switch.

But, MEA went on to say that hanging notices on neighbors’ doors is a courtesy, not a requirement. The same is true, MEA said, for the advertisements the utility runs prior to clearcutting.

Like the subdivision upgrade, MEA was probably in compliance with guidelines concerning notifying the public. However, residents were stunned when they returned home to stumps in their front yards.

Flash forward two years. Different project, same story.

For now, work on the Justine Parks substation has stopped. Planning and Zoning will reconsider the utility’s request for a conditional-use permit at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Even if Birchwood neighbors successfully prevent MEA from completing the larger-than-expected project in their back yards, the damage is done. The trees are gone. Their property values lowered.

For a cooperative, MEA didn’t share too much with its members on this one.


Turn the page …

This week, our faith page is debuting a new column.

Twenty-nine local congregations are involved. Each week, a different church will send a message to the Star readers. The goal is to provide as much variety as possible on that page and give our local houses of worship a voice.


Any congregation in the Chugiak-Eagle River area is welcome to be involved. For more information or to be included in the rotation, contact Star Editor Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or email [email protected].

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