A move by the state Department of Transportation to demolish two houses in an Anchorage neighborhood has become a political issue.
Two Democratic legislators, Senator Johnny Ellis and Representative Les Gara, have written to DOT Commissioner Patrick Kemp, asking that the department hold off on the demolition. The letter asks, quote
” that you not spend state money to demolish [three] Government Hill neighborhood buildings and homes before you know whether you have the financing for the Knik Arm Bridge project. That project is contingent on the approval of a federal TIFIA loan of roughly $300 million – a loan that is difficult to get. “
Representative Les Gara says he’s representing his Government Hill constituents when he asks DOT for fiscal restraint. Gara says the three buildings are together assessed at more than two million dollars, and, coupled with the cost of demolition, destroying them is just throwing money away.
“We’re just asking the Parnell administration to not be reckless with spending. You know, the project hasn’t been approved, it’s contingent on a federal loan that is very difficult to get, and before demolishing two and a half million dollars of homes that they [state DOT] condemned and took away from people, those residences and homes might very well be worth the state selling if they don’t get the federal loan. “
The fracas started when DOT announced last week that it was moving ahead to demolish or remove the two houses, and an old motel, to make way for the right of way for the proposed Knik Arm Crossing. At the time, the Government Hill Community Council, which opposes the Knik Arm Crossing, made it’s opposition to the demolition of the houses known. Stephanie Kessler is president of the Government Hill Community Council.
“Those two homes are an anchor of Government Hill neighborhood. And they are attractive homes and they are very important to our neighborhood.”
Kessler says the majority of the community council wants to keep the houses intact. She says she has no problem with demolition of the old motel, but she wants the houses to stand until it is certain the Knik Arm Crossing will become a reality. Kessler says if the houses are torn down, it implies that the bridge is a given.
“And it’s not inevitable, in fact, it’s far from inevitable. And so, if those houses are destroyed now, and the bridge doesn’t go through, Government Hill is just left with this grassy scar of where those homes were and they would have been unnecessarily demolished.”
In their letter, Ellis and Gara say
” the bigger problem ” is ” that the legislature’s $900 million financing plan only covers roughly half the cost of the bridge, connecting roads and infrastructure that will be needed. The plan does not include a way to raise the next $900 million that will be needed.”
DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says by demolishing the buildings now, DOT is attempting to save property management fees and repair costs.