Birchwood residents support Starner Bridge replacement

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - 11:35
  • The view of Peters Creek from the Starner Bridge. (Star file photo)

Birchwood residents are in favor of a plan by the local road board to spend $1.2 million to replace the one-lane Starner Bridge across Peters Creek.

The Birchwood Community Council voted last week to support a resolution by the Chugiak-Birchwood-Eagle River Rural Road Service Area (CBERRRSA) Board of Supervisors to reallocate funds left over from the Yosemite Drive upgrade project for the bridge.

“We’re trying to make our capital improvements go as far as we can,” said Matt Cruickshank, Birchwood’s representative on the CBERRRSA board.

Council member Debbie Ossiander said Birchwood residents have long championed an upgrade, which would keep the road connecting Aurora Borealis Road and Starner Street one lane but would increase the bridge’s rating from three to 20 tons and allow larger maintenance vehicles to cross. And the little-used (and partially unmaintained) side road that meanders through Peters Creek is also a vital path through the community if the Glenn Highway shuts down.

“This council has been fully supportive of this,” Ossiander said.

The resolution would request a minor budget reallocation of $1.2 million in unused state funding from the Yosemite Drive project to purchasing and installing a new bridge.

Although the CBERRRSA resolution also touted a larger bridge’s ability to more easily pass through emergency vehicles, but Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department chief Tim Benningfield said the bridge would likely not support most of the department’s equipment.

“This upgrade will still not allow our suppression apparatus to go across that bridge,” he said.

However, he said the department has stations on both sides of the bridge and does not view the crossing as vital to first responders’ needs.

“That bridge does not cause us response interference at all,” he said.

Benningfield said he just wanted to make clear the department is neutral on the upgrade but as a side note said he personally enjoys visiting the area as often as he can.

“It’s my favorite place in Peters Creek,” he said.

The resolution passed without opposition.

In other items…

- Benningfield told the council his department’s 110 members completed nearly 5,500 volunteer hours in the past month for more than 54,000 hours this year. Benningfield also said the department is in the process of upgrading its equipment, a process that will entail shifting from a fleet that includes five engines and one tender to on that will include three engines, three tenders and one combination apparatus. The change will improve efficiency and save maintenance costs, he said.

- The council heard from attorney Don Hunter, who has a long history of working on Indian gaming issues. Hunter told a lengthy backstory detailing efforts by Native Alaskans in Eklutna to start a bingo hall in Birchwood and urged local residents to take an interest in the issue — though he acknowledged the issue will likely play out in the courts. The Native Village of Eklutna recently filed suit in federal court to try and get “Indian Country” authority to build a bingo casino on an 8-acre land allotment near the Birchwood Airport.

- The council was briefed by Matanuska Electric Association Director of External Affairs Julie Estey, who said the cooperative’s 6-year line clearing cycle is about to conclude — meaning Birchwood residents will soon see right-of-way clearing in their neighborhood once again. As opposed to six years ago, Estey said the clearing is likely to be less intrusive but told folks to be mindful clearing crews will be again cutting soon. Residents whose property will be affected will be notified via postcards and door tags she said. If anyone has questions she urged them to contact the cooperative before crews arrive.

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