Feeling the berm? In Eagle River, lower taxes and faster plow-outs come with a catch

Friday, February 28, 2020 - 16:04
  • A snow berm in front of a driveway in Eagle River on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)
  • A snow berm across a driveway in Eagle River on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

After a big snowfall, roads in Chugiak-Eagle River are cleared faster and cheaper than those in Anchorage.

So what’s the catch?

“When we get an additional snowfall, everybody’s going to get a berm,” said Eagle River Street Foreman Mark Littlefield.

The driveway berms left by passing snow plows are a bit of a nuisance for folks living in the Chugiak-Eagle River-Birchwood Rural Road Service Area (CBERRRSA), on whose shoulders and snowblowers falls the burden of clearing the berms.

The rural road service area is the only one in the Municipality of Anchorage, and the locally controlled street maintenance department is a quasi-independent entity that’s part of the municipality but has its own budget, foreman, offices and storage facility. The department takes its direction from a board of supervisors made up of representatives from the area’s six community councils.

It’s a system that’s been in place since 1985, and one that has resulted in lower property taxes and faster plow-out times then the rest of the municipality said Littlefield, who noted it takes about 72 hours for a full plow-out in Anchorage.

“Our roads are open in 12 to 16 hours max,” Littlefield said.

CBERRRSA contracts with a private company to handle the bulk of the snow-plowing operations, and the contractor’s four graders and 14 plow trucks must leave behind snow berms in order to get the roads cleared so fast. It also means a plow-out costs taxpayers about $22,000 each time it snows — a relative bargain compared to a bermless world.

Littlefield said CBERRRSA could easily change its policy and demand driveway berms be eliminated during the street-clearing process, but it would cost more than twice as much per plow-out. According to a hand-out Littlefield distributed at a recent CBERRRSA board of supervisors meeting, plowing berms would cost between $50,000 and $58,0000 each time. It would also take about 72 hours to plow all of the area’s 350 miles of roads.

Last year, Chgiak-Eagle River residents paid .94 mills for street maintenance, or $0.94 per $100,000 of assessed property value. In Anchorage, Littlefield said taxpayers are assessed 2.72 mills — nearly three times as much.

Littlefield recently asked the board to reaffirm CBERRRSA’s berm policy and every community council remains comfortable with the status quo.

“They don’t want to raise taxes,” Littlefield said.

Littlefield said the department does get complaints about the policy, particularly after it snows and usually from people who have recently moved to the area from Anchorage. Once he explains why the policy is in place and how it came to be, he said most people are understanding.

For those who would still like to see the policy changed, Littlefield suggested participating in the public process rather than getting on social media to complain about the berms.

“If you want a chance to have a say it starts at the community councils,” he said.

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

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