Berkowitz administration says no to Point Woronzof Park land swap

The Berkowitz administration says it plans to stop a move from earlier this year to strip Anchorage's Point Woronzof Park of parkland status so it can be traded to the airport in a future land swap.

The administration will soon be starting talks with Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport officials about land agreements and other possible exchanges, City Manager Mike Abbott said Thursday. When that happens, Abbott said, trading the 191-acre Point Woronzof Park parcel won't be on the table.

"We don't think the community supports it," Abbott said. "And we don't think the potential airport use of that land … is compatible with long-term community expectations."

In June, a proposed agreement unveiled by then-Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration would have asked voters to remove Point Woronzof Park's protected status so it could be traded to the airport. The airport has sought the land for a new north-south runway that may be built in the future.

Were a ballot measure successful, the city would have received a snow dump on Northwood Drive and about 500 acres that would become new city parkland and neighborhood buffers, according to the terms of the agreement. At the moment, the city rents the snow dump month-to-month from the state, and officials say it needs upgrades to reduce water pollution threats.

Abbott acknowledged that the snow dump remains a critical concern. He said the city will be talking to the airport about ways to gain control over the site, either through a long-term lease or an ownership transfer.

But, he said, the deal won't involve a park swap. When the Sullivan administration's proposal involving the park returns to the Anchorage Assembly on Oct. 20, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his deputies will ask the Assembly to table it indefinitely.

"Then, we will initiate a new conversation with the airport around an exchange or land agreement that makes sense going forward, that addresses both of our near and long-term operational needs," Abbott said.

Taking away the park has proven deeply unpopular among neighbors who fought for it to be set aside in the mid-1990s, and among trail advocates who say there's no guarantees the airport won't alter the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in the future.

Barbara Hood, a member of Friends of the Coastal Trail and Point Woronzof Park, which was rekindled this summer to fight the land swap, said she was relieved by Berkowitz administration's decision.

"We think that taking Point Woronzof Park out of the deal is just a great move and a great outcome for this," Hood said. "It's a beloved piece of Anchorage coastline, and shouldn't be on the table in a deal."

In June, four former Anchorage mayors -- Tony Knowles, Jack Roderick, Rick Mystrom and Mark Begich -- sent letters imploring the Anchorage Assembly to postpone action on the agreement, saying more public involvement was needed.

Sullivan administration officials said the June proposal stemmed from both the area's district plan and an October 2014 task force report that recommended a comprehensive land swap to resolve long-standing conflicts over the use of land at the airport's perimeter.

Those conflicts, and the idea of a land swap, date back decades. They include neighborhood complaints about the encroachment of airport growth, and airport concerns about neighborhoods encroaching on the airport's boundary and operations.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.