News from Patrick Flynn

What’s up at Westchester?

A recent story aired by Channel 2 news about the fish-passage project at Westchester Lagoon reminded me of the interesting ways in which paths can repeatedly intersect with one another. Put another way, this project has followed me around like a bad penny.

Before delving into that history, I’ll note that the work going on at the lagoon will essentially replace the barely functional fish ladder at the dam. Large culverts under the railroad track, an intertidal creek bed and a bridge similar to the Coastal Trail‘s Fish Creek bridge will allow more salmon – mostly coho – to venture into the lagoon and up Chester Creek to spawn. It’s part of the Salmon in the City program aimed at restoring area waterways.

A significant source of funding for this project is mitigation money from what I refer to at the Port-to-Airport pipeline and, for me, that’s where the story begins. Back in the fall of 1997 Ethan Berkowitz and Eric Croft were freshmen phenoms in the Alaska House of Representatives. I was Ethan’s session aide, meaning I had worked for him in Juneau from January to May, but his other aide was taking some time off around Thanksgiving so I was working in the Anchorage office for a couple weeks. The aforementioned pipeline project, which today carries about half the jet fuel used at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport from the Port of Anchorage, was in the planning phase and one of Eric’s constituents had some alternative ideas he wanted to explore. Somehow Eric remembered that during my teenage years I’d had a summer job at Butler Aviation, now known as the Anchorage Fueling & Service Company, so he called me to get more information.

Then as now, AFSC owns the tank farm on the west side of the airport where they store jet fuel and, using an underground pipeline network and pump trucks, refuel airplanes. In 1997 that tank farm was relatively new, with AFSC having moved from their previous location on the east side of the airport. The reason they wanted a new, larger pipeline was that the old one, which ran through downtown and midtown, couldn’t move enough fuel to meet demands. At the old location the pipeline capacity was augmented by railcar deliveries – that’s where the spur that now goes to the Bill Sheffield Depot came from – but there wasn’t rail access at their new location. I couldn’t answer Eric’s questions so we called my old boss, AFSC general manager Tom Mushovic. Tom invited us to meet him at the office of his contractor, Conam Construction, to discuss the project so a few days later Eric, Ethan, Tom and I were in Conam’s conference room with Bob Stinson, Conam’s president, and the project manager, Jeff Huey.

As Jeff walked us through the project Eric posed the questions that had been posed by his constituent. Tom, who is a good guy but not the most diplomatic fellow in the world, offered relatively curt answers. The turning point in the conversation went something like this:

Croft: “What about [some alternative his constituent liked].”

Mushovic: “Well, only an idiot would do it that way.” (I believe he’d used that answer a couple times previously.)

Croft (voice rising): “Okay, so I’m a [blank]ing idiot, tell my why!”

At this point Bob took Tom aside and let Jeff, a patient fellow, do his thing. By the time the conversation was over it seemed that the pipeline, and its planned route through the mud flats, was the best option. The remaining problem was that no one had ever informed the nearby neighborhoods of South Addition and Turnagain about the project. Jeff took his presentation to those community councils and, as expected, there were some serious concerns so an independent consultant with solid environmental credentials (I forget his name) was hired to take a fresh look at the project. After careful review the consultant agreed the pipeline was the best option and the project moved forward.

Several years later, in the fall of 2002 or 2003 I think, the mitigation money remained unspent, the Westchester fish passage project was still on the drawing board and I was president of the South Addition Community Council when the fish passage idea started to regain momentum. With the enormous runs and crowds at Ship Creek the neighbors were concerned Chester Creek would see similar numbers of fish and people. I assembled a panel of municipal, state and non-governmental officials to explain the project and its effects. In a nutshell, a natural salmon run would be pretty meager and the Fish & Game folks said there were no plans to stock the creek so neighbors were willing to let the project proceed. But there were more obstacles to overcome, mostly monetary.

This spring I attended a weekly meeting for railroad managers to discuss capital projects throughout the railbelt when the matter of providing a track window (meaning a block of time during which no rail traffic moves over a section of track) for culvert installation arose. The reason? You guessed it, the Westchester fish passage project! And, in the end, the city wants to pay the railroad to help install the culverts, which we’re slated to approve at the Assembly‘s September 9 meeting. I’ll be declaring a conflict of interest…



This contribution was made on Saturday, 06. September 2008 at 10:59 and was published under the category Neighborhoods. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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1 Comment

  1. […] been around projects like this before I had a bad feeling about where this was heading.  I could already see bureaucratic inertia […]

    Pingback: News from Assemblyman Patrick Flynn » Up the creek? | An Assembly member's take on Anchorage issues – 05. March 2012 @ 6:36 pm

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