Monday, September 30, 2019

Eaglexit Overview

What  is  Eaglexit all About?


The yard signs and billboards are all over Eagle River and Chugiak urging area voters to consider detaching from the Municipality of Anchorage. As a community we are having a discussion.

Another informational meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 3 at the ER Lion’s Club hall, but let’s review here and now what this effort is all about.

Welcome skeptics. Your first questions are going to be: How much will it cost? and Who will pay for it?

Fair enough. The Municipality of Anchorage ( has been doing such a bang-up job for so long that the possibility of self-governing and providing services for our area separate from the Mudflats local government may be unthinkable. So, I sat down with one of the Eaglexit ringleaders, Michael Tavoliero, to get a preview of what they will be talking about at the upcoming meeting.

Then let’s talk about legal authority to detach and why this is the third time detachment for Assembly District 2 (AD2) is being attempted.
Some basic facts:
AD2 has two elected Assembly members, currently including Fred Dyson and Crystal Kennedy. AD2 includes Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) which provides a kind of natural buffer between Eagle River/Chugiak and Anchorage proper. There are six Muni districts, each represented by two elected assembly members, except District 1 has only one elected member on the mudflats assembly.

Total assessment for AD2 is $3.7 Billion according to the Muni website. AD 2 population is around 50,000 people who pay an estimated $57.5 million each year to the Muni in property taxes toward the total $3.7 Billion assessment amount.

The Municipality of Anchorage has $5.7 Billion in assets with $3.7 Billion totally paid for. We also know that the Muni has $1.6 Billion in long-term liabilities for which AD2 has some obligation. This information can be found in the Muni’s 2017 CAFR.

With two of 11 assembly members representing AD2 resident’s interests we have an 18 percent interest in whatever the board decides to do.

“I and some others have looked at this situation and come to the conclusion that with communities the size of Assembly District 2 it makes more sense to have self-government here than there,” explained Tavoliero at the beginning of our interview. “Probably the most important component of this effort, however, is understanding self-government and how it is established in our constitution and laws.”

This could be a teachable moment! Hang with me here, readers.

Alaskans are notoriously independent in nature and many folks of this semi-rural region enjoy large lots and enforced privacy. There are many reasons why WE have escaped the Mudflats Community to live here. We value the natural separation from East Anchorage by virtue of our location.

Other local leaders have recognized this and even taken steps to seek autonomy before.

“Our polls right now, which is more of a sample, show that about 75% of the community likes the idea; they want more information and I believe if the information is reliable and provable they would support it,” continued Tavoliero. “You have to keep in mind the history."

The referenced survey is available here:

“In 1974-75, Lee Jordan and a group of local people successfully detached from Anchorage and incorporated as a second class borough. A group of dissidents decided to sue, saying ‘they can’t do that.’ The superior court agreed with Jordan and that group--ruling against the dissidents, ” explained Tavoliero.

Of course, it didn’t end there.

Besides the court fight, events of the day impacted this community’s efforts for autonomy. Following Statehood the legislature had enacted a Mandatory Borough Act which provided impetus for establishing the Greater Anchorage Area Borough. The GAAB came into existence in 1964, resulting in overlap and duplication of powers under two local governments. Beginning in 1966 and continuing until voters approved a Charter Commission in October 1969, an ongoing battle ensued between the City by the mudflats and Borough. Actions by community leaders and governmental officials ultimately led to unification into what we know today as the Municipality of Anchorage, approved by voters in 1975.

This was the incoming tide Jordan and his supporters faced between local government mud wrestlers in Anchorage and the GAAB. Proponents of detachment--in what became AD2 by Unification--were swamped.

“Over the course of five years--as unification was being laid out--Jordan and that group looked at the options they had: 1. detach and incorporate under the normal rules of the state, found in Title 29, and they concluded the better way of doing this was 2. directly through the legislature,” continued Tavoliero. “They went to Juneau to lobby for better public safety with more State Troopers, and the end product of that was an agreement to detach. The state legislature accommodated them by unanimously passing a law in 1974 allowing AD2 to detach and incorporate based on a referendum of the people and involvement of the Local Boundary Commission.”

The Local Boundary Commission is established in the Alaska Constitution under Article X, Section 12 as part of the Executive Branch to consider local boundary changes for consideration by the Legislature.

Jordan and his group obviously had no confidence in local Anchorage government and wanted the most direct means for establishing a government closest to the people of Eagle River/Chugiak.

“The lawsuit that was filed by the dissidents went to the Alaska Supreme Court and unfortunately, I believe, the ASC erred in their ruling against detachment,” said Tavoliero.

Current dissidents often bring up this lawsuit as a reason why Eaglexit is a fool’s errand. Tavoliero doesn’t think so.

“The court ruled this was a local or special act not allowed by Article 2, Section 19 of the State Constitution,” explained Tavoliero.

ART. II Sect, 19. Local or Special Acts
The legislature shall pass no local or special act if a general act can be made applicable. Whether a general act can be made applicable shall be subject to judicial determination.

“The court opinion basically said that AD2 could use a general act to do what they wanted to do, but instead of remanding it to the lower court, it struck down the law. I don’t think it was possible (to use a general act) under the circumstances because the community of Eagle River/Chugiak was faced with the reality of local government Unification. Rather than going through the process, members of the Alaska Legislature encouraged them--under the local and temporary acts of the legislature--with a specific act focused on a specific location of a specific duration. I believe the act itself was proper and constitutional” emphasized Tavoliero. ”But that is what happened and we are now some 45 years later.”

So how is a giant local government ranging from Girdwood to Eklutna working out now for residents of Eagle River/Chugiak?

“I think it is inefficient and ineffective,” responds Tavoliero. “Remember before Unification, the City of Girdwood was an incorporated municipality. Glenn Alps was an incorporated Municipality. Unification was sold as a process that would create a more efficient, cost effective local government that would represent and meet the needs of the entire area. Eagle River/Chugiak’s biggest complaint was that it did not have representation with the greater Anchorage borough.”

Today Eaglexit promoters recall two schools of thought before Unification: “1) We want to detach and incorporate and be our own community, our own city, or 2) You need to incorporate and be under our umbrella and we’ll take care of you. As a matter of fact we will even give you representation--a seat at the table, they said.

“We have now looked at that, and what we have discovered is that over these more than 45 years that hasn’t been accomplished,” explained Tavoliero. “Instead what we have seen is a continual growth of property taxes; we have seen a true demise in our education system relative to costs. Right now the average per-pupil cost is $18,800 in 2019 dollars including local, state and federal contributions. Real and personal property tax collection for FY 2018 by the Muni was $11,356 per student based on an enrollment of 45,958 students and an annual real and personal property collection of $247 Million to the Anchorage School District (See 2018 CAFR ASD). So the question is: ‘Can we do it better?’

“I think the important point is we need to review the history: Why did Lee Jordon do what he did? Why in the period between 2004 to 2007 did Dan Kendall and Fred Dyson and their group do what they did with their initiation of a detachment process?” said Tavoliero. “I believe that we can develop a local government in AD2 which has a lower property tax base, a better education cost and delivery model, with more obedience to the law in terms of citizenry, including police/fire protection. I believe the things we value as community are not coming from the Anchorage Assembly or the current mayor’s office.

“My position on this is simple: Can a largely affluent community of 50,000 people self-determine their future? I think we can!”

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Alaska Food Security

Fall Festival Bounty


Baby goats at the petting zoo.

Ah, the mud, the glorious mud! From the time of our arrival at Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, we relished the rain turning the rich topsoil into thick and sticky mud. We were here on Saturday, September 1, for a Fall Festival wherein we paid a nominal amount to pick anything left in the fields, after a full season of You-Pick-It harvest.

This is the largestU-Pick business in Alaska. Through the growing season customers pick their own vegetables for a reasonable price and children learn about where vegetables come from. This business model has resulted in an ever-expanding variety of produce and a community of people dedicated to healthy eating and sustainable lifestyles.

My guide--who has talked me into this and some other new adventures--is a woman who was born on a farm in Kentucky; a farm she still has an ownership interest in. Waneta Borden knows a lot about farming; this is just the latest turn of my learning curve about farming, in Alaska.

Since May, she is also my wife!

Our celebration of the harvest began with lining up our truck alongside others parked in rows in a grassy parking field. Upon entry we were met by booths with treats and handicrafts, a pumpkin patch, bouncy barns full of delighted kids of all ages, petting zoo, games, and a band with three gray haired guys in coveralls playing my kind of country music on guitar, banjo and standing bass.

We immediately took the hayride tour over a road that recurring tractors pulling trailers would by the end of the day turn into a river of mud. How have I lived in Alaska so long and missed this?

But perhaps the best part for many families I observed was trooping out into the furrowed fields carrying bags or pulling a wagon, to dig potatoes, or pull carrots, or cut off broccoli florets. I approached the task methodically--with guidance--while the old teacher in me asked some of the kids: “Do you always eat your vegetables?”

They enthusiastically replied “YES!

As a kid I wasn’t so fond of vegetables. Fresh vegetables were rare when I was growing up in a financially struggling family in the suburbs of Albuquerque, NM; or in Anchorage during the early 1960s, or in the Southeast village of Yakutat. Our vegies came in cans. Potatoes could be fresh, and I liked them so-so. Frozen peas, and green beans and carrots were better but not necessary for my preferred meat-and-potatoes diet.

Salad was okay but rare.

Pyrah’s farm also provides opportunity for regular fresh produce for locals  through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program marketed as “a partnership between farms and consumers.”

Partnership? Really?

Enrollment begins the first of the new year and over 15 weeks subscribers receive fresh vegetables starting in June. They are packed in a reusable plastic box estimated to feed up to a family of four at a cost of about $40 per week. Contents of the boxes will vary over the course of the growing season, for a rich variety of healthy farm fresh goodies, including: Bok Choy, Napa, Broccoli, Beets, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Daikon Radishes, various Lettuces, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Spinach, Strawberries, Raspberries, Onions, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Crookneck Squash, Dill, Cilantro, Basil, Mint, Turnips, Peas, Snow Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Beans, Potatoes, Carrots, and Rhubarb.

That represents a large variety for our short Alaskan summers!

In early high school I lived a couple of years in Washington’s Okanagan Valley, on an apple ranch, where I came to appreciate the manual labor of climbing a ladder to pull bushels of fruit from tree limbs. Waneta says every kid should have to spend a couple of years on a farm but my experience is lacking the real farm experience she is talking about.
The author had a great discussion with Frederick "Ted" Pyrah about changes in Alaska

Given that farming is hard work, it is quite a tribute to this Palmer family originally headed by Frederick "Ted" Pyrah--which over more than three decades farmed a tract which was originally part of the John Loken homestead, sold during the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt to the Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation (ARRC), which offered long-term, low-interest loans to colonists who came to Alaska to create a new agricultural community in the Mat-Su Valley. In the face of the Great Depression of the early 1930s, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) decided to establish a colony in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley with intrepid souls who knew what they were facing. In other states resettlement efforts under the plan were to already existing communities.

In all, 202 families came to Alaska in 1934 to settle and start our agricultural economic sector. Initially the land was divided into 40-acre tracts. AARC hired colonists to work on roads and build infrastructure necessary to sustain the families. It also provided household goods and farm equipment and provided health and recreation services. By July of 1936, 67 of the original families had left the colony.

But those who stuck with it have left a legacy. The colony experiment cost five times more than estimated, at $5.4 million, and by the end of the second year many families were at least $10,000 in debt. But by 1940 the Matanuska Valley had become a stable agricultural community with 118 tracts of land under cultivation.1

The Pyrah family moved here in November of 1979 to run the Pioneer Peak Farm for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, according to Janet Dinwiddie, daughter of Frederick, who together with her husband is now in the process of buying it from the church. Her two kids, 19 and 17 years old are also active in running the farm

“It was run primarily to provide food for the church’s welfare system and volunteer church members aided in the work,” she explained to me between responses to operational needs during the course of the festival.

In 1988, the church decided to discontinue the welfare farm program in Alaska and the Pyrah’s took out an option to lease the 277-acre parcel. 

“Every year we do the Fall Festival about the third week of September,” she added. “The Friday before the festival we do a Special Needs Day; it is a little less loud and we provide handicapped-accessible hayrides, and whatever accommodation people might need to have a full experience.”

So, an end-of-season festival makes a lot of sense—but wait there’s more!

In mid-July the Pyrah farm sponsors a Strawberry Festival to celebrate all things summer. This festival centers around coming of the strawberry crop and features the Crazy Rooster Market & Arts Fair, live music with special guest concerts, agricultural themed rides and games, and the annual ButteAthlon Fun Run and Triathlon.

And, the next big festival at Pyrah’s will be during the Christmas holiday, featuring traditional activities including Toboggan rides, Ice Skating rinks, and Mrs. Claus Mercantile & Sweet Shoppe holiday confections and gifts. A Nativity with music and narration contributes to the Christmas theme with hayrides through the beautiful Matanuska Valley winter wonderland.

Today we learned about where we can go next summer for fresh vegetables we pick ourselves and pay for. Waneta is preparing all that we gathered Saturday and I will help with preparation for freezing or storage. Given my failures in trying to grow gardens in the past, this is a great option.


1Antonson and Hanable, Alaska’s Heritage, Unit 4 Human History, P 470

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why Not Mt. McKinley?


Some of us grew up knowing Mt. McKinley was the largest mountain in North America. It isn’t anymore; Mt. Denali is now the largest mountain in North America.

So why was it named after the 25th President of the United States in the first place?

According to an article in “A gold prospector, William Dickey, named it Mount McKinley in 1896, after President William McKinley. Dickey was among a large group of prospectors who were part of the Cook Inlet gold rush. When asked why he chose to name the mountain after then-presidential nominee McKinley, he cited McKinley's support of the gold standard. 1

Alaska’s history has been impacted by the quest for gold. According to Investopedia: “For 5,000 years, gold's combination of luster, malleability, density and scarcity has captivated humankind like no other metal." According to Peter Bernstein's book,The Power of Gold: The History of Obsession, gold is so dense that one ton of it can be packed into a cubic foot.2

McKinley was just a presidential nominee then, so what kind of president did McKinley become? Was President McKinley really worthy of such an honor, taking the place of the traditional Alaska Native name, “Denali?”

First let me say I don’t think natural geographic formations should be named after people. I once had a conversation with Alaska’s first state governor, chair of our constitutional convention, William Egan, about this topic. He told me directly he didn’t think Alaska ferries should be named after people (as the early Alaska Marine Highway System vessel Bartlett had been) but that the ferries should be named after glaciers.

That made sense until I thought about it: Many Alaska glaciers are named for people, beginning with Adams Glacier named in 1896 by H. F. Reid for C.A. Adams, a member of an exploratory party in what is now Glacier Bay National Monument. The list includes Art Lewis Glacier, named in 1922 jointly by Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (CPCGN) for a member of Canadian surveying parties in 1912 and 1914. Lewis was killed in France while serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force with the 72nd Highlanders in WW I.3 Bartlett Glacier, named for Alaska senator Edward Lewis “Bob” Bartlett is on the Kenai Peninsula, and there is even an Unknown Glacier near Juneau named after somebody unknown.4

Was it an insult to Natives to rename this mountain for some minor president?

Not at all! In his time William McKinley was a remarkable president and it was easy to keep his name as the identifier for this mountain on all maps over most of a century. He was born in Ohio January 29, 1843 and was a school teacher until he enlisted to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. I have a book published in 1901 that details the life and assassination of this, the third president to be killed in office.5  The book is entitled: Life of William McKinley and Complete Story of his Assassination by Marshall Everett “The Great Descriptive Writer and Friend of the Martyr President.”

McKinley was killed six months into his second term as president, September 14, 1901.

With such an old style name one might easily imagine this is a book of adoring notations of what happened to cost the nation its chief executive at the hands of an avowed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. The dastardly deed occurred September 6, 1901, “the blackest Friday in American history.” The President was attending the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, New York.

From the book: “The scene of the assassination was the Temple of Music, at the Exposition grounds. The day previous was President’s day at the Exposition, and President McKinley had delivered what many believed to be the greatest speech of his life. Praises for his wisdom and statesmanship were ringing around the world.”

The hyperbole is thick and sticky.

When it happened the president didn’t even know he had been shot. He coolly asked: “Am I shot?” A black waiter, James F. Parker, “leaped upon the assassin, striking him a terrific blow and crushing him to the floor.”

This third presidential assassination had a major impact upon the nation. McKinley was a gifted orator. He knew America could never compete with the cheap labor of other countries and their products would keep our economy in bondage unless we built our own production capability. He raised protective tariffs to promote American industry and kept the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver (effectively, expansionary monetary policy).

The economy took off.

McKinley had been a war hero and a congressman from Ohio. He was first elected president in 1896.

As president McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, resulting in acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine colonies. Cuba was promised independence but remained under the control of the U.S. Army. The previously annexed independent Republic of Hawaii became a U.S. Territory in 1898. For 20 years after the civil war the country had been rebuilding but a political stalemate of the post-Civil War era meant the South, from Texas and Oklahoma to Kentucky and Virginia, generally voted Democrat and dominated the political landscape. McKinley’s election broke this stalemate and brought about the Progressive Era until 1920, beginning with McKinley’s vice president turned president, Theodore Roosevelt.

The entire world was saddened by death of this great man. The funeral train bearing the remains of President McKinley brought him home to Canton, Ohio. According to the book: “The mustering of popular sentiment was awe-inspiring, both because of the numerical strength of the mourners and the intensity of feeling shown. In every sense was the trip of the President’s body to its last resting place memorable. Miles upon miles of humanity were passed, thousands upon thousands of heads were bared. Hundreds upon hundreds of crape-tied flags were displayed, while, in the distance, the emblem of the nation was seen at half-mast upon the schoolhouse or other public building.”

President McKinley’s assassin, Anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, was placed on trial. He pleaded guilty but that plea was set aside so he could be tried by a jury. He was sentenced to death and executed in an electric chair. After the body was placed in a grave in Auburn, New York, quicklime and acid were poured upon it to completely destroy it.

That is how strongly Americans felt about William McKinley.



5 Marshall Everett, Life of William McKinley and Complete Story of his Assassination, unknown publisher, 1901.

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