Residents of Aurora Borealis Road could loose local road maintenance unless the Chugiak Birchwood Eagle River Rural Road Service Area (CBERRRSA) Board of Supervisors and Eagle River Street Maintenance (ERSM) can generate solutions to problems facing a well-loved road near Peters Creek in Chugiak.
These problems including municipal platting discrepancies, the road crossing private property and a guide fence of sorts that is made of rocks that could damage vehicles.
Currently, from 300 feet east of Helluva Street to Starner Street, Aurora Borealis crosses private property that is not platted for the road. According to Mark Littlefield, ERSM General Foreman, the MOA is concerned about liability issues of maintaining the road.
The road, a quaint, quiet lane, meanders in a series of curves along the base of a bluff below Birchwood Road. It connects Starner Street, near the beloved one-lane Starner bridge, to Birchwood Road. The area, carved thousands of years ago by ice until the glaciers receded and left Peters Creek flowing from the Chugach mountains to Cook Inlet, is in the Peters Creek flood plain.
Six decades ago, Helluva Road connected directly to Birchwood Road. The approach was steep and the decision was made to have Helluva Street connect with Aurora Borealis instead. According to Marjorie Chochrane’s book, “Between Two Rivers,” the section line dedicated to Aurora Borealis was also steep. Ralph Doyle, who helped clear for roads and driveways in that era, punched Aurora Borealis along the base of the bluff “where it was easier to build, puzzling later surveyors.”
Over the years, homes have been built along the unconventional drive.
Gordon Dersch lives on a curve of Aurora Borealis and was tired of people taking a short cut over his yard. Concerned someone would run into his house, only a few yards off the roadway, Dersch set up a perimeter of rocks to mark his property. The rocks are the concern. If damage to a car occurred, who would be responsible? MOA doesn’t really own the roadway, as it is on private property. However, if the rocks are on private property, is the owner of the property responsible? But then, who else but the owner should drive on his own property. It has created quite the dilemma.
The actual easements for Aurora Borealis line up from the first few hundred feet in straight line to Bernie Avenue on the other side of Peters Creek. In 1996, the agency Official Streets & Highway Plans (OS&HP) suggested extending Bernie Ave. across the creek to meet with the western section of Aurora Borealis. The feasibility, due to the width of the Peters Creek flood plain in that area, created doubt and the idea fizzled.
Randy McCain has property on both sides of the creek. He lives on Aurora Borealis and his neighbors access their property through a traditional right-of-way on McCain’s land due to the location of the actual road. McCain says the folks who live on the road seem to get along just fine. He suggested that Aurora Borealis, however, is used more by the community that the residents of the road.
Kiley Kamrath agrees. The road cuts through his lot. He believes that traffic has increased since Three Bears has gone in on Birchwood Road. Residents in homes off of Oberg Road and Deer Park can get to the grocery story by skipping the Glenn Highway and taking Aurora Borealis.
Former Chugiak Eagle River Assemblywoman, Debbie Ossiander, remembers her efforts to take the “collector” classification off of the road. Yet, the classification still stands. McCain believes that classifying Aurora Borealis as a country lane could help solve some problems involving road width. A country lane could maintain the charm of the road without risk of widening the existing road.
McCain, who sits on the CBERRSA Board, believes there are options to solve the concerns in a peaceful manner. Among those would be to build a curb and a rail fence to replace Dersch’s rocks.
Dersch isn’t opposed to a curb if CBBERSSA wants to pay for it, but if a fence is installed, he doesn’t want it to encroach on the small amount of land he has.
McCain thinks the fence position could be worked out with Street Maintenance.
Another idea McCain wants to explore is to approach MOA about exchanging the original easement for the actual road. That would free the current easements up for homeowners, currently restricted by the platted easement. Add that to a country lane classification, and the problems might be solved.
Kamrath likes some of McCain’s ideas and also wants a peaceful solution. He is concerned about his wellhead, only six feet from the roadway, but on his property. Note – the roadway is his property.
Littlefield sent a letter to all of the residents and property owners along Aurora Borealis inviting them to attend a meeting Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Eagle River Town Center in the Community Room to discuss options and to keep them informed.
Editor’s Note: Gretchen Wehmhoff is a member of the ECHO News team and is a former journalism instructor at Chugiak High School before the program was eliminated.