Mat-Su

6 properties demolished along Matanuska River, putting an end to erosion-threatened home buyout

palmer, matanuska river, erosion, butte

BUTTE — There will be no more summer gatherings at Scott Easler’s cabin-treehouse complex along the Matanuska River near Palmer, no more winter retreats or evening dog walks.

Easler’s cherished cabin — along with five other riverfront properties, from trailers to six-bedroom homes — was demolished this week in a state-federal buyout program aimed at getting structures off the river before they fall in.

The process started back in 2012, after flooding swallowed a home in Butte and threatened others.

That’s when Easler shelved his plans to put in a well and septic, though the cabin remained his sanctuary for 11 years.

“I had big plans for that place that the mighty Mat kind of took away,” he said Thursday.

Matanuska River

The Matanuska is a powerful, glacier-fed braided waterway that snakes back and forth between Palmer and Butte, eroding its banks even when the river isn’t at flood stage. Numerous homes in Butte and Sutton have fallen into the water over the decades. Many property owners bought and built when the river was far enough away to be out of sight.

[Watch: A log home falls off the eroding Matanuska River bank]

ADVERTISEMENT

The buyouts are part of a borough strategy to prevent economic and environmental disasters. Over the years, however, a number of residents chose not to apply.

palmer, matanuska river, erosion, butte

State and federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program money to pay for the buyout was awarded to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in March 2018 for $3,368,100 to purchase up to 10 properties, according to borough planner Taunnie Boothby. Any money left over will be returned.

[Money to help erosion-threatened village is going to the Matanuska Valley instead]

The six properties cost more than $1.6 million for purchase, an amount that doesn’t include the cost of demolition, Boothby said. The largest structure was 10,596 square feet and the smallest was 1,100; purchase prices ranged from a $485,000 to $150,000.

There is no more buyout money at this point, officials say.

Even these buyouts came grudgingly for some. Residents for years pushed the borough to put money into shoring up a failed levee or dredging the river to keep the channel away from their homes.

Matanuska River Musial home

Upriver from Butte, in Sutton, two longtime buyout holdouts died last year: Ed and Valerie Musial. The couple’s green home, built in the 1950s when an expanse of trees and grass separated them from the river, now sits perched precariously above its rushing water. It’s not clear what the future holds.

The borough’s assistant manager, George Hays, visited with Ed Musial last fall just before his 98th birthday. Musial died in October; his wife earlier in the year.

Musial told Hays he wanted his ashes scattered on the property.

Matanuska River Johnson cabin Musial home

At least for now, the river has meandered away from the Musial house as well as the Butte side. Now it threads in braided channels past that section — only to re-form with a focus on a bank downriver, south of the Butte buyout properties, Boothby said.

She got a panicked call from a woman who bought property there in the spring but now had less than 5 feet from her stairs to the river, Boothby said.

“It was a really sad situation,” she said. “She bought it in March. By the end of June, she’s moving the house.”

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

Sponsored