In an effort to mend fences, Ekltuna, Inc., and the Municipality of Anchorage on Wednesday announced a historic agreement to resolve a long-standing dispute regarding landfill gas produced at the Anchorage Regional Landfill.
If approved by the Anchorage Assembly, Eklutna, Inc., which is the Native corporation representing 170 shareholders of Dena’ina Native Peoples ancestry, will receive a $5.75 million settlement regarding its claim that the Eagle River-based native corporation was entitled to half of the revenue from landfill gas as per the 1982 North Anchorage Land Agreement.
In 1982, Eklunta, Inc., filed suit against the Municipality of Anchorage. Since then, the two organizations have worked on numerous joint ventures – including highly favorable land leases for Anchorage School District venues including Chugiak High School and Birchwood ABC Elementary. Eklunta, Inc., also allows Anchorage Police Department officers living in the Mat-Su Valley to park their cruisers on Native-owned property at the Eklutna Village. There are several other examples of joint cooperation, yet the landfill gas dispute remained.
Both Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Curtis J. McQueen, chief executive officer of Eklutna, Inc., said at the Jan. 4 meeting at the native corporation’s office on Centerfield Drive in Eagle River that the time had come to settle the dispute for the good of both organizations.
Flanked by members of the corporation’s board of directors who are also tribal shareholders, Berkowitz and McQueen briefly discussed the terms of the settlement agreement and announced an increased level of friendship between the two.
“I felt it was important to put this old dispute away,” Berkowitz said. “It is time to focus on the future that the Municipality and Eklunta have together. “
Upon his election to mayor in 2015, Berkowitz said he reached out to McQueen in an effort to resolve the dispute without further court action.
McQueen said he was receptive to the idea.
“The Mayor was more concerned with what our future relationship would look like versus dragging this dispute out any further,” McQueen said. “I agreed with him and felt that this needed resolution so we could go to the next level.”
The proposed settlement would be used by Eklutna, Inc., to further its development of housing in the Powder Ridge and Powder Reserve housing developments which border the Glenn Highway and Fort Richardson. The exact details regarding the types of housing Eklutna, Inc., will build in the coming phases had not yet been determined, according to McQueen. He did state that more affordable options such as condos or townhomes most likely will be part of the mix and that Eklunta, Inc., will continue to enforce its high standards of quality workmanship with the builders participating. He acknowledges the difficulty many potential buyers now face in trying to get into the $400,000 and above price range that had been the mainstay in the Powder Ridge and Powder Reserve development. He hopes adding more affordable housing in the $200,000 range will help get more people into home ownership.
An email from Myer Hutchinson, who is Mayor Berkowitz press representative, indicates the proposed settlement will be funded as the following: $750,000 from the Municipality’s Solid Waste Services division and the other $5 million from general fund.
To date, landfill gas sales at the Anchorage Regional Landfill have generated more than $6 million in revenue in the sales to Anchorage-based Doyon Utilities, according to Hutchinson. SWS officials anticipate the landfill will produce gas for several more decades.
In exchange for the $5.75 million settlement with Eklutna, Inc., the Municipality proposed receipt of the following:
- All landfill gas produced on any lands that fall within the North Anchorage Land Agreement belongs to the Municipality.
- Eklutna, Inc. agrees to accelerate its housing construction schedule.
- In support of that accelerated construction, the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility will front the costs of building primary trunk lines as per its newly proposed tariff.
- After primary trunk lines are completed, Eklutna, Inc has no more than three years to complete construction in the Powder Acres lots and five years to do so in the Powder Hills lots.
- If Eklunta, Inc., fails to complete the construction within that timeline, it must pay the Municipality $2 million and waive any entitlement to revenue from NALA land.
- Eklutna, Inc., releases claims to the 300 acres of NALA land that the Municipal Light and Power will need to build a new electrical substation and switchyard and transmission lines at Fossil Creek.
- Eklunta, Inc., also releases claims to a 49-acre parcel located near the landfill currently used by Anchorage SWS to store gravel used at the landfill.
Tribal members standing with Berkowitz and McQueen indicated they are pleased with the decision and the potential opportunities they believe it will bring to their shareholders.
“We are on the road of connecting people and being in an era of working together and sharing our good hearts with our neighbors,” Maria D.L. Coleman, Eklutna, Inc. board treasurer, said.
Berkowitz echoed that idea stating that, “settling this dispute between the Municipality and Eklutna, Inc., allows for us to forge a stronger relationship that is more along the lines of being neighbors and friends working together for the benefit of all.”
The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to receive the settlement proposal before March 1.