Residents rejoice after Birchwood water line project goes down the drain

Tuesday, December 17, 2019 - 13:05
  • The under-construction Powder Reserve subdivision north of Eagle River. The Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility says a project that would have run a large water transmission line through the area will no longer go forward. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

Birchwood residents are celebrating after a controversial project that would have run a water transmission line through their community has been scrapped.

“There are no plans for AWWU to move forward,” Gretchen Wehmhoff told the Birchwood Community Council Wednesday.

Wehmhoff said she met with an official for the water utility about the transmission line, which was proposed as a way of supplying water to the new Powder Reserve subdivision north of Eagle River. The utility was originally asked by the Municipality of Anchorage and Eklutna Inc. to build the line, but Wehmhoff said the official told her negotiations on who would have to pay for the project effectively killed it.

“It stalled,” she told the council.

The council officially voted to oppose the project in 2017.

[[READ MORE: Birchwood council votes to oppose utility expansion]]

Wehmhoff said Eklutna Inc. decided the larger transmission line wasn’t needed for its current needs. She said it’s unclear whether local opposition or financial pressure was more influential in the decision to scuttle the project, but believes the council’s diligence didn’t hurt.

“We made a difference,” she said.

After Wehmhoff spoke, the council voted to put the item on the January agenda for the purpose of discussing a resolution to ask the Anchorage Assembly to repeal a previous resolution endorsing the project.

The sighs of relief after Wehmhoff’s announcement weren’t the only ones heard during Wednesday’s meeting at the Beach Lake Chalet. Council members also indicated their relief that a scheduled presentation on a replatting of Alaska Railroad land turned out to be much ado about nothing.

During a presentation by surveyor Craig Bennett of the S4 Group, council members heard the railroad is simply looking to redraw lines on property it already owns.

“It’s a clean-up action, basically,” he said.

Bennett said the railroad likes its tracks to be centered within tracts of land with 200 feet on each side. By redrawing the tracts it already owns north of Eagle River the railroad can accomplish that goal. No tracks are moving and Bennett said he couldn’t think of a reason why locals should be concerned with the action — which must still go through the public hearing process.

“We’re just making a tract over the existing line,” he said.

Council members said they were satisfied with Bennett’s explanation.

On a Wednesday full of good news, the council also heard from Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department Chief Tim Benningfield, who said that after consulting with Chugiak-Birchwood-Eagle River Rural Road Services foreman Mark Littlefield the department’s equipment will be able to cross a planned replacement to the Starner Bridge across Peters Creek.

Benningfield — who told the council at its last meeting he didn’t think the new bridge would be large enough to accommodate the department’s engines and tenders — said there was a misunderstanding about the numbers.

“It’s going to hold well over what we’re going to take across it,” he said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 907- 257-4274

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