Eagle River-Chugiak leaders eye seceding from Anchorage

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2003

ANCHORAGE - There's a new call among some Eagle River-Chugiak leaders for the area to become an independent city, separate from Anchorage.

This time it comes from a perceived threat to the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department.

Anchorage Assemblyman Dan Kendall, who represents Eagle River and Chugiak, is among the people promoting independence. He issued his secession call in a mid-September speech to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.

Kendall was angered by a suggestion contained in reports prepared this summer for new Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. The mayor's transition team said fire and emergency services could be improved through integration of the paid Anchorage Fire Department with the volunteer forces in Chugiak and Girdwood.

The city department already serves the Eagle River core. But the volunteer department has so long served the outlying areas that it is wrapped up in the community's sense of identity as a small town.

"It's neighbors helping neighbors," said Chugiak-Eagle River Fire Chief Gary Davis, who has been a volunteer firefighter for 37 years. "It doesn't get any better than that."

State Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, has long been working on a plan to separate Chugiak and Eagle River from Anchorage and says he's going to pick up the pace. He is reworking legislation aimed at speeding the process and plans to commission a study of financial angles, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The secession idea is decades old. In 1975, Eagle River and Chugiak actually achieved independence for a few months, until a court order sent the communities back into Anchorage.

Shortly after that, a petition to create a new borough in that area was rejected by the state Local Boundary Commission.

State law calls for a minimum number of local governments, said Dan Bockhorst, a boundary commission staff member. The law says boroughs should represent large natural areas and the maximum area that can be said to have common interests.

"There's been an uneasy partnership" since 1975, Dyson said. "I don't think there's any conscious effort on the part of Anchorage to discriminate against us," he said. "At best, it's benign neglect for a country cousin."

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