South Fork residents push to protect Bernard Road access

Monday, October 9, 2017 - 12:10
  • Eagle River residents gather for a South Fork Community Council meeting at Eagle River High School on Sept. 7, 2017. Council members vote unanimously to oppose vacating the public right-of-way to a proposed development along Bernard Drive. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A sign marks private property along the Bernard Drive right-of-way in Eagle River on Sept. 8, 2017. Local residents opposed vacating the public right-of-way at a September meeting of the South Fork Community Council. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

As new construction continues to spring up throughout the Eagle River Valley, a cluster of local residents are pushing back against a planned development off Hiland Road.

The proposed expansion within the Bernard Subdivision – a heavily wooded swath of land about a mile-and-a-half up the road – calls for several new homes and a cul-de-sac with sweeping valley views. But the new development would also cut off the public right-of-way along Bernard Drive. Neighbors are saying no.

At a recent South Fork Community Council meeting, the vote was unanimous: Keep the right-of-way, locals said.

“The biggest thing is the loss of egress,” said area resident Linda Nuechterlein, one of many people who spoke up at the Sept. 7 meeting in the Eagle River High School library. “This egress is very important to us: Once you lose a right-of-way, you’re never going to get it back again.”

The right-of-way in question is a half-mile stretch of dirt connecting Hiland Road to the downhill end of Elnora Lane – a short, steep street that dead-ends into a paved portion of Bernard Drive. For many area residents, the unimproved Bernard Drive right-of-way represents an important route out of the valley: If Elnora Drive was rendered impassible by fire or ice, there’s only one way back up to Hiland Road, locals said.

The September SFCC meeting was the second time locals had gathered to learn more about the new Bernard Subdivision developments. In July, 22 local homeowners signed a petition objecting to plans to vacate the right-of-way. In late August, many of the same neighbors attended a meeting with a representative from S4, the development firm hired to spearhead the project on behalf of a group of private owners.

The Aug. 15 gathering covered everything from traffic impact to concerns about wetland development, according to meeting minutes and neighbors who were there. When neighbors gathered again for the Sept. 7 SFCC meeting, many of the same concerns remained.

Over the course of half an hour, S4 planner Craig Bennett fielded questions about soil sampling, plat plans and the timeline for construction. Though crews are already at work on a new house in the subdivision, the whole development is still in its early stages, Bennett said.

“We’re still waiting on soil samples for the road,” he told concerned neighbors at the community council meeting. “We don’t want to waste the client’s money redesigning something when the soil might say there’s peat or bad soil or cars under the road, which would change everything.”

Once final plans go before the Anchorage Platting Board, neighbors will have another chance to weigh in via public hearing, Bennett said.

“It’s pretty preliminary right now,” Bennett said.

While the future of Bernard Road remains in flux, the South Fork Community Council is taking a stand, passing a resolution opposing its closure.

“It sounds like the folks that are up there really don’t want to lose that road,” said SFCC President Joe Wright.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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