The Municipality of Anchorage is taking steps toward construction of a tactical training facility in Birchwood, most recently seeking to buy the land where the facility would sit.
The planned South Central Law Enforcement Tactical Range, an outdoor training facility for law enforcement agencies in Alaska, is slated to be built on a 34-acre parcel next to the Birchwood Shooting Range. The property, picked through a formal site selection process in 2008, is owned by Eklutna Corp.
The project is currently estimated to cost about $13 million. The state Legislature has already allocated grants totaling about $8.3 million, and the municipality is asking for an additional $4.8 million for the upcoming year.
The quest for full funding comes as the municipality and Eklutna negotiate a land agreement. Eklutna had proposed a long-term lease. But the municipality has concluded buying the land, instead of leasing it, would save "a significant amount of money," said Bryce Hyslip, municipality spokesman.
In mid-November, Anchorage City Manager George Vakalis sent a letter to Eklutna, outlining the municipality's interest in purchasing the property. A week later, Eklutna CEO Curtis McQueen sent a letter back, saying his board had given him the go-ahead to move forward with formal discussions. The next step will be an appraisal, McQueen said.
In an interview, McQueen emphasized the corporation's support for the project. But at the end of the day, he said, a decision will be made that supports Eklutna's shareholders.
In most cases, Eklutna prefers long-term leases on its properties, McQueen said. The Native corporation is the largest landowner in the Anchorage Bowl.
But, he said, the corporation is "open-minded" about a potential sale. The terms of the sale might include a buy-back option for a later date, McQueen said.
Anticipating the potential purchase, the language in the municipality's latest state grant request is deliberately flexible, allowing the municipality to use the funds to acquire the land, Hyslip said.
Plans to build the training facility have been in the works for at least a decade. In 2004, a coalition led by the Anchorage Police Department requested expanded training facilities, prompted in part by increased restrictions on the use of facilities at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The state funding request describes it as a dedicated outdoor shooting facility, with four different tactical shooting ranges. The plans also call for a small-arms shooting range that mimics an urban environment, where officers can practice tactics like forced entry.
"Currently, there is no dedicated area for South Central Alaska law enforcement personnel to train regularly in real climate conditions," according to a 2008 memorandum written by a member of the city planning department.
Assembly member Bill Starr, who represents Chugiak-Eagle River, has been pushing for construction of the facility since he was first elected to the Assembly. He said he has long envisioned a "modernized police training center" where law enforcement agencies can consistently practice weapons training.
In stating his support for purchasing the land from Eklutna, Starr noted the municipality can't bond for infrastructure on land it doesn't own.
As the plans have moved forward, people who live in the area have continued to voice concerns about noise impacts. Starr said he feels those concerns are premature.
"The use patterns are maybe not going to be what they think they are," Starr said, adding: "I'd want them to keep an open mind," referring to area residents.
Contacted about the status of the project, Jill Flanders Crosby, co-chair of the Birchwood Community Council, said she'd like Starr or a representative of the municipality to speak to the council in January and answer questions from community members.