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    The big picture: Why do Eagle River residents want independence from Anchorage?

    By AlaskaWatchman.com

    Editor’s note: This article is republished with permission by writer Donn Liston. Click here to read more articles by him.

    Anyone who has lived here any length of time knows the region of the state that includes Eagle River/Chugiak/Peters Creek is a unique part of Alaska. Dan Kendall once represented this area on the Anchorage Municipal Assembly and has experienced the effort to preserve the qualities of this region as a policy maker. He is now the spokesperson for EaglExit, a local grassroot movement with a vision for separating this area from Anchorage.

    “I helped to establish the Road Service Area out here. It started as one road service area for each community council, and it was consolidated into one service area for the whole area,” Kendall explained over a cup of coffee at Jitters Coffee Shop. “I helped get that organized. Then one of the Assembly members asked me if I wanted to be on the Platting Board because as development was coming out this way, they wanted somebody with an Eagle River/Chugiak perspective. I was on there for two terms and in the middle of my second term I got appointed to the Anchorage Assembly. One of the assembly members resigned and I took his place.”

    Kendall developed that local perspective after his family had moved here from Valdez upon being displaced by the 1964 Earthquake. He spent a few years in Anchorage and didn’t like it.

    EaglExit is doing what it needs to do to show we are ready to detach from the Municipality of Anchorage.

    Alaska’s first governor, Bill Egan, who had presided over Alaska’s constitutional convention in Fairbanks during the winter of 1955-56, was also from Valdez.

    “In Valdez, with only 1,000 people there, everybody knew your name. If you caused mischief on one side of town your mother would know about it on the other side of town before your got home,” quipped Kendall.

    “Anybody who stayed in Valdez after the earthquake was basically camping. The town had been devastated and had to be relocated to where it is today. I have written a story that was published in ADN about that experience,” said Kendall. Some of Kendall’s friends were lost on the docks during the earthquake.

    “I felt like I lost everything,” he continued. “I lost my friends and my house, and my school, my community; so my family moved to this big city of Anchorage where I didn’t know anybody. My parents got divorced shortly thereafter. My mother tried to raise the three younger siblings. My older brother Jim was a troublemaker and he got sent to live with a family we knew in Nome — he got to graduate from Nome High School. It was probably a good thing for him, and my older brothers all joined the military, but they stopped the draft when I turned 18.”

    The Vietnam War was over. Alaska was a young state. We had a vision of what we could do beyond being a territory under the USA umbrella.

    I am concerned that any development projects that come before the Assembly don’t allow for give-and-take anymore.

    Gov. Egan was one of the visionaries who saw the future of our Alaska as a state. Our political strategy was to go ahead and do what we would have to do, as the state of Tennessee had done, to show we were ready to take on the responsibility of being in control of our own destiny. It worked.

    The organization known as EaglExit is also doing what it needs to do to show we are ready to detach from the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA).

    An event reminded Kendall of what he was missing.

    “I was hitch-hiking on Minnesota Drive, and this fancy Cadillac stops to pick me up,” he said. As I am getting in, I hear Hi Danny, how are you doing? And it was Gov. Egan! That’s the kind of thing I missed when living in Anchorage — the small-town friendliness.”

    But we still have that here in Eagle River/Chugiak/Peters Creek.

    “A lot of the challenges we faced when I was on the Anchorage Assembly had to do with rezoning,” Kendall continued.  “Walmart wasn’t here and the subdivision behind it wasn’t here. I will take the blame for those because some people like the way Eagle River has developed and some people don’t.”

    He explained: “Old timers in this region said “we need large lots.” But newcomers are just fine with their smaller city lots. That challenge continues today. There are unique problems facing the area of the MOA called Assembly District 2 (AD2).

    Anchorage just raised taxes on property owners. Could detaching from the muni reduce Assembly District 2 tax liability?

    “These are the kinds of decisions that should be made locally, not from Anchorage,” said Kendall. “I am concerned that any development projects that come before the Assembly don’t allow for give-and-take anymore. Anchorage is limited in what direction it can grow and that makes it even more important that the people here can make their own local decisions about development here.”

    Public education in the Anchorage School District is another concern.

    “We have the best schools here. Before the pandemic there was a national study on 2nd grade reading levels and Alaska came in 51st behind Puerto Rico. The Anchorage School District is so large that it dominates all the numbers, meaning the study said ASD was not teaching proficiency at the 2nd grade level,” Kendall explained. “Later there was a 5th grade math study and Alaska came in 51st again. There is a real lack of accountability with a giant school district like ASD. With our own city we can have our own school district and it can be held accountable locally.”

    What is that independence going to cost?

    Kendall responded: “The number one concern I hear is: ‘How much are my taxes going to go up?’ I believe worst case they will stay the same. They might actually go down, but we cannot say that for sure because we are still doing the studies. That is the number one fear.”

    The Municipality of Anchorage has just raised taxes on property owners, could detaching from the municipality reduce Assembly District 2 tax liability?

    “The timeline for detachment won’t staunch the tax increases we have just received,” said Kendall. “We are hoping to apply to the Local Boundary Commission sometime in May or June of this year and they can deliberate for up to one year. At that point we have two choices; 1) a vote of the people within the affected area, or 2) the legislature can approve it. We are leaning toward a vote of the people so somebody else isn’t telling us what we should have.”

    Alaskans in AD2 will be learning more about findings of the extensive studies being done now. In the meantime, residents here will get to observe the way municipalities in the Mat-Su Borough and the Municipality of Anchorage are able to recover from the pandemic. With quality businesses, and a community separated from the municipality by a military installation, residents of AD2 will be greatly impacted by decisions made for us in the mudflats.

    To learn more about EaglExit or to contribute go to eaglexit.com.

    Click here to support the Alaska Watchman.

    Donn Liston
    Donn Liston
    Donn Liston has lived in Alaska since 1962 and in Eagle River since 2010. He was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during pipeline construction and is a retired teacher after becoming certified in Juneau after living there 20 years. He taught Adult Basic Education in the Anchorage community of Mt. View and in the Mat-Su Job Center between 2007-2017. He was named a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2013.

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    10 Comments

    1. News flash….A majotiry of Chugiak /Eagle river Residents have NOT demonstrated a desire or willingness to separate from the Anchprage Muni. Your title is misleading; it would be better stated as why do the ORGANIZERS etc. PS I have lived in the area for 46 years.

    2. What a nonsense article trying to further divide people from one another

      Another classic watchmen article

      Yellow Journalism

      • Division is happening from the Assembly. This article brings to light a better solution for those of us in Eagle River/Chugiak/Peters Creek that are tired of being the piggy bank for the rest of Anchorage. I for one living in Peters Creek for 10 years have never seen my property tax stay the same and has gone up every year and I’m sick of paying for the corruption in Anchorage.

      • I appreciate the Watchman & the articles they publish whether I agree with them or not. We need more than one side of an issue to ponder. Without a look at all sides of an issue it is impossible to make an informed decision.

    3. There are strong holds of liberal think out here too, but mostly it is a conservative district. I just hope enough of the residents have the courage to vote to separate. I know my family will definitely vote to, as Anchorage has continually gone down hill since moving here in 04.

    4. Like everyone, I got the flyer last week stating that we can afford to detach from Anchorage and form our own government. I was encouraged to go to the website to learn more. There is no information on the website. Click on the infrastructure tab…nothing. Click on the education tab…crickets. I want to know- does this plan include the costs for purchasing existing MOA buildings such as the water and wastewater utility, the school buildings, the fire department building, the miscellaneous AWWU water buildings scattered about? Does it include forming a police department, a fire department, a new school district, and a new municipality that covers road maintenance and other necessary services? Does it cover a new mayor, a new assembly? Have surveys of police officers, firefighters, teachers and MOA employees been done to see if they’ll come serve in our fledgling little city? I know several teachers and none of them want to leave ASD. I keep hearing how we can afford to do this, but there seems to be no details. In fact, according to the flyer, EaglExit still needs funding to even do the feasibility study portion. On the one hand, I would like to see Eagle River detach from Anchorage because the far left-leaning values of the Anchorage assembly do not match the values of the majority in Eagle River/Chugiak. But not if the end result is our taxes skyrocketing because we didn’t actually take into account all the expenses and it turns out duplicating all the services we currently get from Anchorage that are amortized across a population of 300,000 now being spread across 1/10th of the population is untenable. If you want my support, you’re going to have to stop making grandiose claims and provide hard facts. And frankly, the feasibility study should be done before making any claims at all about costs.

    5. I think Eagle River should go ahead and disengage from Anchorage. Call itself a sanctuary city. Other states are calling themselves sanctuary states to protect their 2nd amendment rights from the government. Some counties in Oregon are “ceceding” from the state because of being conservative. They need to call themselves sanctuary counties and then do not have to follow the liberal governor’s mandates.

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