There’s an earthquake-caused crack in the hillside behind Loretta French Park. It would cost $700,000 to repair.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - 12:03

Damage to Eagle River parks from last year’s earthquake remains, but without sure funding there’s little hope some needed projects will be completed any time soon.

Eagle River-Chugiak Parks and Recreation Director Karen Richards said Monday the process for receiving federal funds is slow and complicated with little guarantee any money will ever come.

“There’s nothing up front, there’s no guarantee,” Richards told Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors Monday night at its monthly meeting in Eagle River.

Projects range from small repairs like replacing pavers in Town Square Park to a large crack in the ground that needs to be filled in on the hillside behind Loretta French Park. But because the federal funding process requires projects to be completed (or at least well on their way) before they can be reimbursed, Richards said she’s between a rock and a hard place.

“Everything’s just a big gray area,” she said.

The crack is a hazard because people climb the hill behind the ballfields at the municipal park. The uneven ground is dangerous and has been blocked off, Richards said. She told the board it’s estimated it would cost $700,000 to backfill the area with dirt — money the department does not have available to literally throw in the ground.

“I’m not pulling $700,000 to fix a crack in the earth,” she said.

However, she said she’s still negotiating with the federal government in hopes of getting a better guarantee of funding and said she’s submitted several projects for grant funding.

Other projects include a dock replacement at Beach Lake Park that Richards said has begun to move forward. Design work is nearly done on the replacement dock, she said, but construction won’t happen until spring. She’s hopeful the project can be done in conjunction with work by Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff to stabilize the lakeshore at the Chugiak park.

Boo better

Richards said the Boo at the Beach event in October was a success despite some line snafus that caused some participants to stand in line for more than an hour.

“It turned out to be a great day,” she said.

This year’s event attracted 1,098 children to the trick-or-treat trail and another 1,397 people to the haunted trail. That’s about 100 more trick-or-treaters than last year and roughly the same amount of visitors to the haunted side, she said. In all, an estimated 2,995 people visited the trails for the event.

However, Richards did say some people were forced to stand in line longer than expected, a problem she said will be solved for next year’s Boo.

“That was something that was an oversight,” she said.

Cemetery talks resurrected

The meeting closed with a discussion of a long-talked-about Eagle River cemetery proposal that continues to float around but has yet to become rooted in solid ground after Richards told board members she declined a request from municipal staff to consider funding a $60,000 site assessment.

Richards said she’s reluctant to take on a project of such a scope within her department, whose funds are limited by tax assessments on Chugiak-Eagle River residents.

“I do not have the staff or the time to maintain a cemetery,” Richards said.

She doesn’t doubt the potential utility of a cemetery, but said spending $60,000 to pay for something that’s not under Parks and Recreation’s purvey seemed irresponsible.

“I’m not saying it’s not needed, but it’s not our deal,” Richards said.

Board members seemed to concur, agreeing that unless the area’s community councils direct them to pursue a cemetery they’d rather not see Parks and Rec leading the charge. That way, Hill said, folks would be more clear on the extra burden the department would be taking on.

“At least we’d be forced into it with some understanding by our community councils that this is going to cost a little money,” Hill said.

The cemetery issue came before the board last year, when Girdwood’s Tommy O’Malley proposed Chugiak-Eagle River join forces to create cemeteries in both communities. Girdwood’s cemetery plan is much further along than is Chugiak-Eagle Rivers’s, but area residents have long discussed having a cemetery in the community and has cautiously endorsed the concept. A cemetery committee made up of local community council members has been formed, but thus far parks board members said they’d heard little chatter about the subject at the council level.

The board took no action on the issue and didn’t disagree with Richards’ decision to hold onto the money for now.

In other items:

- Board member Kari Young said Monday’s meeting would likely be her last as she’s moving to a different community council area.

- Richards said she’ll soon pick a firm for design work at a proposed dog park and asked for more public discussion before making any final decisions on a site selection.

- Richards said she has not heard back on an easement proposal by the Compatible Lands Trust, but said the idea was for the nonprofit to have a proposal for a Beach Lake Park conservation easement by the beginning of next month.

- Richards said light replacement at the Beach Lake Trails has yet to be completed and could be delayed further now that there’s snow on the trails because driving trucks on the trails tears them up.

- Hill said she was concerned about a section of trail at the new Mirror Lake mountain bike trails. Richards said she’d have a staff member ride the trails to check out the issue. Richards also said she plans to meet with mountain bike trails users on potential further upgrades at the facility.

- McDonald Center manager Reid McDonald did not attend the meeting but Richards said things appear busy at the center, including now programs for home-schoolers and lots of ice rentals.

- Richards said work on a new maintenance storage facility near Fire Lake is progressing well after the Anchorage Assembly approved the purchase of land alongside the Old Glenn Highway next to the Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue station. Design work is being completed on a 100-by-50-foot building that Richards said she’s hoping can be installed this winter.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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