Zoning decision deals blow to Chugiak construction landfill

Zaz Hollander

A contentious construction and demolition debris landfill proposed next to Loretta French Park in Chugiak suffered a setback this week.

The Anchorage Planning and Zoning Commission, in a 6-1 vote Monday night, denied a zoning request from landowner Eklutna Inc., a necessary step toward Assembly approval of the Central Environmental Services Inc. fill project. Commissioner Dana Pruhs was the lone vote in favor.

Residents in Chugiak rallied against the fill, citing its location near a preschool, homes and the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center. They argued shallow groundwater made the site vulnerable to contamination. The Chugiak Community Council voted to oppose the fill in May.

On Tuesday, Chugiak resident Theresa Daily said she was celebrating.

"All of our mouths dropped open," Daily said, of the commission's Monday night vote. "I just couldn't believe it. All along we were getting the impression it was a lost cause."

Shane Durand, with Central Environmental, did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Central, which operates a Ship Creek construction waste recycling company, hopes to open debris fills in Chugiak and near Palmer. The debris dumps are less regulated than conventional landfills, with no requirements for liners.

Central earned more than $3.5 million last year selling recovered steel, asphalt, concrete and glass to markets in Alaska and the Lower 48. The disposal sites would allow the company to avoid Anchorage landfill fees for the 8,000 tons of waste it dumps every year.

At this point, however, both projects are on hold.

The company sought permission to dump shredded construction and demolition waste in what's called an "inert monofill" at a 17-acre parcel in Chugiak that's part of a 62-acre property owned by Eklutna Inc.

The Eklutna property falls under a Planned Community zoning that requires the commission to approve a master plan before any development can take place -- including a landfill.

The planning and zoning commission rejected Eklutna's proposed master plan Tuesday night, according to Erika McConnell, municipal planning section manager. Planning staff had recommended approval.

Generally, commissioners said the plan lacked adequate detail, McConnell said. One commissioner also questioned the need for the monofill.

Eklutna also requested a four-month delay on a conditional-use permit for the fill. The commission postponed a decision until Central gets a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"The complicated thing is if they don't have an approved master plan that says they can put in a monofill, there's no point in going forward," McConnell said.

Eklutna is assessing the commission's direction on the master plan, CEO Curtis McQueen said in a phone message. Eklutna will probably provide more detail to the commission later this month.

The village corporation and Central plan to do more water sampling at the site, McQueen said.

"We're just going to work through the process," he said.

Central is proposing another construction landfill for a 35-acre parcel owned by the company along the Glenn Highway near Palmer that's also met with loud opposition.

Mat-Su Borough planning commissioners in June turned down a conditional-use permit for Central's Palmer operation; the company is expected to re-apply, borough officials have said.

Central also is involved in ongoing legal action with the borough over code violations.

Meanwhile, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation required Central to remove what the state called "illegally dumped waste" buried at the Palmer site in April without a permit. Borough code compliance officials failed to get Central to move the shredded waste, according to a Sept. 25 letter to the company from Lori Aldrich, DEC's solid waste program coordinator. DEC got involved in August.

The company in mid-September dug up the shredded waste and trucked it to an existing fill site in Birchwood.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.