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Mat-Su to get $4.5 million to buy out Matanuska River property owners

Ed Musial, 94, looks at the current cutting away his land in July 2017 north of Sutton. (Bill Roth / ADN archive)

PALMER — A long-awaited buyout along erosion-prone stretches of the Matanuska River is expected to get underway by the end of the month.

An unpredictable glacial river, the Matanuska has over decades devoured dozens of riverfront homes and threatens several more now, including one near Sutton that's literally at the water's edge.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough announced last week that a $4.46 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will be awarded this month. The grant is three-quarters federal funds and a quarter from the state.

The money will pay for 10 properties in Butte and five near Sutton, officials say. All the designated property owners signed voluntary participation letters in 2014.

Not all riverfront residents opted to participate in the buyout, and even some who did aren't sure it will work for them.

Scott Easler, a homeowner along the Matanuska River, Aug. 10, 2017. (Zaz Hollander / ADN archive)

Scott Easler said he's anxious to see a fair-market appraisal on his 6-acre parcel with cabin along the Butte section of the river — one that doesn't reflect the value-diminishing effects of river erosion.

Easler said the rough estimate on his property from officials in 2014 was half what it listed for in 2008.

"I'm not willing to take 50 cents on the dollar," he wrote in a message. "It's a wait n see."

The buyout program is entirely voluntary, said Taunnie Boothby, the borough's floodplain administrator and project manager on the grant.

"They will have the opportunity to say yes or no all the way to closing," Boothby said Friday.

The process will take up to 18 months, she said. Each property will be appraised before an offer is made.

Once purchased, the properties will go into a restricted status of open space in perpetuity, preventing any new buildings from going up, officials say. They will be owned by the borough.

The buyouts are part of a larger strategy to address the river's ongoing destruction. No erosion-related laws or regulations restrict building along the Matanuska.

The state has spent more than $4.3 million to protect the Glenn and Old Glenn highways from the water's encroachment. But despite calls from some residents to do so, the borough doesn't have the money to shore up river banks near homes. And there's no indication that protecting one stretch of bank wouldn't cause damage at another.

A separate Army Corps of Engineers study is looking into the buyout of threatened properties not covered by the buyouts to convert them to recreational lands.

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