Eyebrows were raised when local legislators named the bridge crossing the Eagle River to connect Eagle River Loop Road to the Glenn Highway in honor of the Briggs brothers, Glenn and Dale.
The extension of Eagle River Loop had long been proposed by Danny Bell. Years later, he admitted to this writer that he had indeed been the one who clandestinely bulldozed the route one weekend in the 1970s.
“I almost owned up to it when they said it had to have been done by someone with a D-8 or D-9 Cat,” Bell smiled. “They suspected I did it, but they didn’t think my D-6 could do the job.”
Bell came to Alaska in the 1950s and worked at Ft. Richardson. There, according to legend, a co-worker was a sergeant who filed on a homestead in Eagle River Valley. Supposedly, someone told the sergeant’s superiors that the soldier was hauling away government property and building a house while on duty. The sergeant was transferred on short notice and unable to prove up on the homestead. Bell filed on the site at Eagle River Road and Eagle River Loop and eventually gained title.
He raised hay and horses and eventually bought a nearby homestead. That site was subdivided into residential lots. Bell named the streets for winners of the Kentucky Derby. The lots were sold for reasonable prices: in some cases, $50 down and $50 per month. The subdivision was quickly filled in the booming economy of the time.
In addition to raising hay, Bell and his D-6 were in demand by people in need of excavation services. With no local veterinarian available at that time, he also was sought after for advice on the care of equines by horse-owners in the area.
A Democrat and conservative, Bell became involved in politics. He strongly opposed the mandatory formation of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough and railed against regulations and tax levies by that entity.
When Glenn Briggs, a dedicated Republican, was elected to the Borough Assembly, Bell became a vocal critic. Both were developers.
Each put in water systems to serve their lots, but their visions widely diverged. Bell’s lots were smaller and did not have paved streets or street lights. Briggs favored public services such as sewers and road maintenance. Bell did not.
When the question of secession from the Greater Anchorage Area Borough and formation of a separate borough in Chugiak-Eagle River arose, Bell led the fight to make it happen. Briggs was opposed. Both contributed financially to the respective sides.
When the Legislature passed a bill allowing a vote on secession and calling for an election of officers, Bell was one of ten residents whose names were on the ballot as candidates for mayor. Bell waged a lively campaign but came in second when votes were tallied.
Although voters approved the separate borough by a large margin, the legislation that led to its creation was declared unconstitutional when the Alaska Supreme Court considered an appeal on the lower court’s ruling.
Prior to the separate borough election, Bell had been instrumental in forming the Eagle River Improvement Association. That group was active in pushing the state to build more roads. It strongly supported extension of Eagle River Loop across the river to connect with Glenn Highway. They saw the benefit of bypassing the bottleneck in downtown Eagle River. The growing population in Eagle River Valley was employed primarily on the military reservations and in Anchorage. The Hiland Crossing was seen as cutting commute time for those residents.
Although officials later realized the wisdom of Bell’s plan, they resisted pleas from the group to pursue the design.
In frustration, Bell pushed through the trail, driving his D-6 tractor down from the corner of his homestead, across the river and up the slope on the south side to connect with Hiland Road.
State highway officials were outraged. So were fish and game biologists who feared damage to the river’s fish. Also complaining were state parks supporters who wanted to add the undeveloped river bottom to Chugach State Park. All wanted to find the culprit who dared to despoil the valley and punish him to the fullest extent of the law. But they couldn’t find anyone with a D-8 or D-9 Cat who they might charge. And Bell stifled his pride and kept quiet.
Nevertheless, Bell was blamed. Part of the “desecration” was in the right-of-way on Bell’s property. He was officially ordered to re-vegetate the land that had been disturbed.
Bell complied with the order. He planted turnips along the strip.
Bell’s subdivision abutting Eagle River Road remained undeveloped for several years. He saw its location as valuable and attempted to establish a temporary source of revenue by putting in a mobile home park. That effort was heavily opposed within the adjoining neighborhoods. His applications were denied by the borough planning commission.
Bell eventually sold the homestead to a group of developers who built the up-scale Eaglewood Subdivision. The Eagle River Walmart superstore occupies the area surrounding the Bell home, which he burned to the ground rather than see someone else occupy it. He and his wife Shirley moved Outside and traveled extensively. He died peacefully, sitting in his recliner watching television.
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer opposed the separate borough proposition, favoring instead a second-class city within the Greater Anchorage Area Borough. He was elected as mayor with a margin sufficient to avoid a run-off with Bell, the second-place finisher. The two men were friends before the hotly-contested election and remained so afterwards.