Woodlot now open in South Anchorage

Devin Kelly
Loren Holmes

After several weeks of limbo, a woodlot where homeowners can drop off dry brush and woody debris is now open for business in South Anchorage.

On Thursday morning, the Anchorage Fire Department announced the opening of the woodlot, which will be operated by the Alaska Hydro-Ax land-clearing company at a snow dump site near 100th Avenue and C Street.

The site accepts natural wood, including tree and brush parts, limbs, logs and stumps, which are then turned into wood chips. The fire department sees the lots as a way to give the public a safe alternative to burning when it comes to disposing of brush, especially in dry conditions.

"It's a fire hazard to let that brush accumulate," said APD forester John See.

For that reason, the department has been in a nervous scramble the last several weeks to get the Anchorage woodlot up and running. Up until this year, the Anchorage Soil and Water Conservation District, an agency made up of property owners, has run the woodlot, most recently at the South Anchorage Sports Park.

In early May, the district said in a statement posted online that the woodlot would not be open for the season, citing "financial circumstances beyond the District's control."

"Costs for 2014, coupled with residual mulch from prior operations, are beyond what the District believes it can recover from drop-off fees," the statement said.

The statement called the woodlot a "community service project," as opposed to a for-profit enterprise. It also said it relied on drop-off fees and the use of municipal land to run the operation, and did not receive any financial support from the Municipality of Anchorage.

The district's operations manager, Ryan Stencel, could not be immediately reached for comment.

See, the APD forester, said the district's decision caught the fire department off guard. He said fire officials received the news around the time the woodlot was supposed to open.

"It was just a big surprise," See said in an interview. "And to have that coincide with this extremely dry spring we had, that was of great concern to a lot of us."

After several weeks of searching, Alaska Hydro-Ax, an Anchorage land clearing company, agreed to manage the location at 100th and C Street.

With no South Anchorage woodlot so far this season, homeowners looking to drop off brush have been forced to drive out to the Hiland landfill in Eagle River or to Girdwood. See said he has fielded multiple phone calls daily from people complaining about the absence of an Anchorage lot.

"There's lots of people waiting with brush to haul to this place," he said.

The gap appears to be tied to a surge of people illegally dumping limbs across Anchorage, including at the old South Anchorage Sports Park site, despite a "no dumping" sign posted there, See said. Illegal dumping can carry fines of up to $1,000.

To open the new woodlot by Thursday, Dave DeMenno, the owner of Alaska Hydro-Ax, said his company worked until midnight each day last weekend, including Father's Day. Equipped with several large grinders, Alaska Hydro-Ax was previously hired by the soil and water conservation district to turn the debris into wood chips.

The chief users of the wood chips include landscaping businesses, as well as Anchorage Solid Waste Services, which applies chips as a cover for debris at the landfill.

DeMenno said the company took on the operation of the woodlot as a service to the department and the community, while well aware that it's not a money-making enterprise.

"It's going to be a losing proposition for us. I know that," DeMenno said. "But we want to help the city out." He added that he would like to see some financial support from the municipality to ease the cost burden.

The company is charging $15 per pickup load of woody debris. The lot is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday and closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.