Borough moves forward with final design for Alder Top Village subdivision

The borough is moving forward with design of the Alder Top Village (Keishangita.’aan) subdivision at the site of the former Wrangell Institute, a federal Alaska Native boarding school that closed in 1975. Borough officials hope the project will alleviate the community’s housing shortage — after its first phase is complete, 20 new residential lots could go on sale in 2024.

At its Jan. 24 meeting, the borough assembly unanimously approved a $109,616 professional services contract with Ketchikan-based R&M Engineering to design roadways and water, sewer and electrical utilities for the property.

R&M had previously contracted with the borough for a portion of the roadway and utility design work. Under the new agreement, they will complete the remaining 65% of the design and prepare bid-ready documents for construction.

The borough has been moving toward developing the property since 2016. Work stalled in 2021, when more than 200 graves of First Nations children were discovered in British Columbia near the site of a former residential school. Since then, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has discovered thousands more graves and labeled the residential school system “cultural genocide.”

These abuses were not unique to Canada — a U.S. Department of the Interior study also identified 500 American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native child deaths throughout the United States.

In September 2022, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Alaska State Historic Preservation Office agreed to let the Alder Top Village project move forward, provided that an archaeological monitor was present during excavation.

The funds appropriated for design and construction will cover the borough’s monitoring plan, which is intended to identify, protect and document any Alaska Native cultural resources uncovered during construction work. “The monitoring plan means we have to have someone on-site as excavation is occurring to make sure there’s no cultural concerns that need to be addressed,” said Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad.

Such plans are “essential to ensure that professionals are on-site to quickly and respectfully respond should a discovery of unmarked graves or archaeological deposits occur,” added Lorraine Henry, public information officer for the State Historic Preservation Office.

In late December, the assembly approved a $2.2 million budget to install roads, water, sewer and electricity for the first phase of the new subdivision. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has delayed issuing a permit to fill wetlands until the borough completes and submits its archeological monitoring and wetlands mitigation plans.

The monitoring plan will “detail the field methods to be used by the monitor, locations that will be monitored, the reporting requirements for the project, and consultation or notification protocols in the event of a discovery,” wrote Henry. The wetlands mitigation plan is intended to offset the development’s impacts on the site’s natural resources.

Road construction could begin as early as mid to late summer, said Al-Haddad.

 

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