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Time for an Anchorage stormwater utility

  • Author: Christopher Coleman-Denomie
    | Opinion
    , Malia Aperto
    | Opinion
    , Chris Bell
    | Opinion
  • Updated: October 10, 2019
  • Published October 10, 2019

Water flows out of a storm drain into Chester Creek near C Street during a hard rain Sept. 20, 2019. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Anchorage’s stormwater infrastructure is falling apart, and every year we fall further behind on maintenance. Flooding, sinkholes, and washed-out roads are the result. As the old saying goes, “a stitch in time saves nine.” We can administer public funds more efficiently and protect property from flooding by implementing a municipal stormwater utility. In addition, a stormwater utility could help jump-start business investment in our city.

The Municipality of Anchorage has already done a great deal of preparation and research for a stormwater utility, including a comprehensive report published in 2019. According to that report, Anchorage has $1 billion in maintenance needs, but only invests $8 million annually. As a result, “At only $8 million per year being applied to the problem and system deterioration worsening each year, the current program is not able to meet citywide needs.”

The inadequacy of our current system is not surprising. Right now, we rely on property taxes to fund stormwater work. Our stormwater approach is reactionary and lacks a systemwide effort to protect property and infrastructure. As a result, we don’t have plans in place to address longstanding problems such as flooding everywhere from the Hillside to Chester Creek.

Thousands of local governments across the country use stormwater utilities to maintain and improve infrastructure. We support the work of the Assembly and administration to move forward with a stormwater utility in Anchorage. This user-fee based system would be more efficient than the status quo, and prevent massive bills that result when unmaintained infrastructure fails catastrophically.

In addition to improvements in efficiency, a stormwater utility would generate jobs and improve Anchorage’s economy. Many local governments have incorporated stormwater improvements into broader road redesigns that spur economic development. We have many aging corridors in Anchorage in which addition of stormwater infiltration, street trees, and better pedestrian facilities could jump-start investment and development. A stormwater utility can help expand the number of corridors that are attractive for business development, and that’s good for our economy.

We appreciate the research and preparation the municipality has done for a stormwater utility, and believe that now is the time for action. Implementation of a stormwater utility is good government, would create jobs and improve Anchorage’s business environment.

Christopher Coleman-Denomie, Malia Aperto and Chris Bell are construction laborers who live and work in Anchorage.

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