First, let me commend the hundreds of firefighters and support teams from all over the state and lower forty-eight who are working to contain the McHugh Creek Fire. With foresight, several years ago, the Anchorage Fire Department implemented a Fire Wise program, educating hillside residents on how to protect their homes from just such a fire which included clearing areas around their home from dead brush and trees and recommending more fire retardant building materials.
Now comes the hard part. Let me disclose that I am the managing partner of Potter Creek Development, LLC, which owns Potter Highlands subdivision, a partially developed new home community for 79 lots and 30 have been developed with well and septic systems. Prior areas in Potter Creek were developed with public sewer and the extension of water from a community water system which is fed by a large aqua at the top of Potter Valley Road. The parcel we own, which is now called Potter Highlands, was originally intended for several hundred multi-family units to be serviced by water and sewer. However, a few years back the property was rezoned to R6, i.e., large lots well and septic system. This was after negotiations with AWWU broke down over their unwillingness to participate in the cost of a large water holding tank which would have enabled piped water to homes as well as fire hydrants. Now, unfortunately, fire crews have to haul water both in fire engine tankers, mobile tanks and create temporary plastic reservoirs. AWWU also refused to purchase the private water utility company in this area for a reasonable cost of $300,000.
When it comes to fire prevention and public safety, not only is the lack of a public water supply a problem on the hillside but so is the issue of secondary egress. Connectivity is the buzz word when it comes to trails but trails are not as important as adequate egress for human life. Once again, the MOA has bypassed their fair share of financial responsibility to open up areas for development with adequate egress, limiting the growth of our community. The original Potter Valley Road was built with state funds handed over to the MOA. Last year, Potter Creek Development, LLC extended the road at a cost of over $3.2 million without any assistance from the MOA. However, no new development can occur until the secondary egress is improved, although the MOA through the Heritage Land Bank on an adjacent property, is proposing future development with no public plan being discussed on a secondary egress solution.
The hillside is a ‘hot’ spot for development. It is where many locals dream of living after spending time in suburbia. It is also where newly arrived residents first ‘take to the hills’ to find their new home. They both want the large lots, the inlet and mountain views, the occasional moose and bear in their backyard. Maybe even a lynx or two. The bald eagles swooping through the sky. Perhaps, this fire and its threat to our hillside communities will turn our attention on how to make the area as safe as it is beautiful.