A Somewhat Misunderstood Local Entity Working Right Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Most of Chugiak-Eagle River is under the umbrella government of the Municipality of Anchorage, but a local advisory boards handles issues involving CER roads and street maintenance.
The Chugiak Eagle River Rural Road Service Area (CBERRRSA) Board of Supervisors is the volunteer organization known to locals as “the road board.” The board manages road maintenance, repair, budgets and road-related issues in CER.
CBERRRSA includes representatives from each of five community councils. Representatives and alternates are chosen by their community council and approved by the Anchorage Assembly for a three-year term.
According to the MOA website, the road board was formed in 1985 after “voters elected to unify the previously separate service areas in the October 1984 Municipal Regular Elections.”
Birchwood resident Bobbi Wells, a former member of the road board has been around from the beginning. She recalls that budgeting and funding requests for roads were originally handled through community council service areas. Wells recalls former resident “Chuck” Chambers as the person who helped guide the different councils to work together and form the Board as a way to consolidate resources and costs. Her friend, Gail Dial, who passed away several years ago, was a strong force on the Board.
“Gail believed the only was to fight was from the inside” Wells said.
According to Wells, Dial joined the board when she became frustrated with the system and served for “years” on the Board. Wells said Dial was a strong influence on the board and instrumental in moving various projects forward as well as securing a “free” bridge from the military, now known as Starner Bridge.
The consolidation allowed CBERRSA to have control over local road funding.
“We can’t bond like other areas in Anchorage, so we have our own mil rate,” Mark Littlefield, superintendent of Eagle River Street Maintenance (ERSM), said.
Today the mil rate is 1.9 mils. Littlefield says CBERRRSA tries to keep the rate down below the cap of 2.1 mils and gives direction to ERSM, a division of MOA’s public works department.
Currently, the road board, in addition to supervising maintenance and managing dedicated monies, is working to follow a long-term traffic plan for Eagle River.
“There is an actual plan to fix all of the traffic issues in Eagle River,” Michael Melielo, current road board representative, said.
The completion of the plan referred to by Melielo is dependent upon funding. A small portion of the plan is currently underway – traffic mitigation at Artillery Road intersection and the Glenn Highway leading into downtown Eagle River. Future projects include extending Farm Avenue from Eagle River Loop Road to the Glenn Highway and adjusting potentially dangerous intersections.
Melielo joined the road board in 2007 and currently maintains his position representing Eagle River Community Council (ERCC). He has seen various large projects pass through the road board from drainage issues to access issues for schools and state parks.
Melielo likes CBERRRSA’s ability to handle situations locally. “I’m glad CBERRSA is in place every time we find a road that people own. Because of our uniqueness, we can usually handle working with the neighborhood to make things work,” Melielo said.
Melielo is referring to roads such as Snowmobile Lane, Kerbow Lane and Aurora Borealis – all “roads” used by the public, but owned privately. Aurora Borealis has been in the news lately as the residents and MOA work through CBERRRSA to reach an agreement that may result in either modification of the road structure or limiting regular municipal road maintenance.
CBERRSA’s budget fluctuates with the weather. While snow plowing and removal is the primary goal in the winter, a wet and icy winter can cost more in sand.
“In a really icy winter, we pay up to $500,000 to sand roads, whereas it might normally be budgeted at $100,000 for sanding,” Littlefield says.
Heather Reed works in the ERSM office in Eagle River Town Center. As office manager, she enjoys working with employees in other departments in the building to help keep the community safe and maintained.
“I love my job,” Reed, a twenty-year resident of Eagle River, said.
Reed answers the phones when people have questions about street maintenance and projects. She is also keeper of the history and files of CBERRRSA as well as the administrative assistant for the road board.
Current CBERRRSA members include Tony Vita (Birchwood), Ted Carlson (Alternate-Chugiak), Michael Melielo (ERCC), Crystal Kennedy (Eagle River Valley) and Jose Vicente (South Fork).
CBERRSA meets monthly with Littlefield, Reed and Maury Robinson, superintendent of the MOA Public Works Administration. Meetings are held the fourth Monday of the month in the Eagle River Center, although the board does not meet in June, July and August unless necessary. Their work session begins at 6:30 p.m. with the regular meeting immediately following or at 7 p.m., whichever comes first.
Editor’s Note: Gretchen Wehmhoff is a long-time resident of Chugiak. She is a former journalism instructor at Chugiak High School.