Anchorage Assembly indefinitely tables advisory vote on Eagle River exit

Glenn Highway, N Eagle River Access Road (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The question of whether Eagle River, Chugiak, Peters Creek and Eklutna should secede from Anchorage is off the table for the foreseeable future. 

On Wednesday night, Anchorage Assembly members debated an ordinance that would’ve asked voters on the April ballot whether those northern Anchorage communities should research the potential of detaching from the Municipality of Anchorage and forming their own government. 

The ordinance came from Assembly members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy, both representing Eagle River and Chugiak, and would’ve put the vote to community members from their district. 

The vote would’ve been advisory, not a formal decision. Kennedy said it would’ve allowed the city to take the pulse of the region that’d be seceding. 

The idea of secession from Anchorage goes back to at least the 70s. More recently, a group called EaglExit has been leading the charge. The area is generally more conservative than the entire municipality. But Kennedy said she’s not sure a majority of people support secession

“I don’t believe that a lot of people in my community are ready to make such a black and white, yes or no answer to the question of detachment,” Kennedy said.

Speaking on behalf of the Birchwood Community Council, Gretchen Wehmhoff opposed both ordinances, arguing that the motion for secession was premature and should have come from the community level. 

“We believe that community councils are part of the legislative process in a way, so our community councils feel like we should have some notice,” Wehmhoff said. “And of course, having eight days’ notice doesn’t do it justice.”

Wehmhoff also was concerned about who would conduct and pay for the research on secession.

Allard responded to Wehmhoff’s concern at Wednesday’s meeting, stating that she and Kennedy had discussed the ordinance with other community councils in the area, though Wehmhoff claimed they hadn’t spoken to her council. 

Downtown Anchorage Assembly member Chris Constant had put forth an ordinance that would have put the question of Eagle River secession to all Anchorage voters. While his ordinance was postponed indefinitely, he argued that the northern Anchorage communities seceding would impact the entire municipality, and any question of research should also be voted on by all of Anchorage. He posed this question to Assembly counsel Dean Gates.

“With the reality that the Municipality, the voters and the taxpayers, have put massive cash investments that are ongoing into that area, it’s fair to say then that all of the taxpayers of the municipality have a stake in the question, isn’t it?” Constant asked.

Gates said while he couldn’t argue whether that was a fair statement, an argument could also be made that Eagle River puts a lot of resources into the municipality. 

Allard, who moved a failed amendment to include the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson area in the advisory question, argued that Constant’s questions to counsel further justified the need for research into how secession could work.

“Mr. Constant absolutely proved my point by asking Mr. Gates those questions, and this is what we want to ask our community,” Allard said. “So we want to make sure that the community’s onboard so we can further study this.”

Ultimately, the ordinance brought forward by Allard and Kennedy failed 4 to 7, with only members John Weddleton and Suzanne LaFrance joining the sponsors in support.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Chris Constant represents Downtown Anchorage, not Midtown.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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