Borough accepts grant to update street address system

A nearly $90,000 state grant will help the borough reinvent the community’s address system so that first responders, internet providers and residents are on the same page — or in this case, the same street.

At present, Wrangell’s homes and roadways reject the conventional wisdom of street naming. There are two First avenues, two Second avenues, two Third avenues and a Third Street in town. Grave Street turns left onto one of the Third avenues, which turns left onto Grave Street again. Some streets have never been named at all, and homes on Zimovia Highway don’t have official addresses.

The disjointed system is tough on newcomers, residents seeking home loans, package delivery companies and first responders.

The effort to create a unified address system for Wrangell is in its early stages and will likely take years to complete. Some of the initial grant funding will go toward hiring a consultant who specializes in community addressing.

The assembly accepted the grant at its Nov. 14 meeting. The state money comes from a federal Department of Homeland Security grant to Alaska.

Some families and businesses that have been in the same location for years might have to change their addresses and community pushback could be “a challenge,” said Capital Facilities Director Amber Al-Haddad. The borough will do its best to avoid disrupting the addressing that is already in place.

Regardless, making any changes will require “a healthy public process,” said Economic Development Director Kate Thomas.

“Our addressing system doesn’t really make sense half the time,” said Chris Booker of C&D Deliveries, who deals with the mystifying layout of the town regularly. There are “(addresses) on Cassiar Street that go from 118 to 206, and they’re 10 feet apart. … I do know that if they were to do something about all of that, it would sure help out … folks who are ordering online.”

Emergency medical services would also appreciate systematized street names and house numbers, which “would give us a more definite location to go,” said Fire Chief Tim Buness. Similar-sounding street names have delayed ambulances “a time or two,” Buness said. So far, there haven’t been any serious mishaps.

Though other small Alaska towns have similar problems, these systems are “the norm anywhere else,” said Al-Haddad. “This is something we need to work on, but it’s a lot of work.”

The changes will require coordinating with the police and fire departments, geographic information system mapping and phone companies to ensure that whatever system the borough adopts can be used by all.

The borough will also have to design its new address system with future growth in mind. If lots are subdivided and new homes are added, they’ll need to fit within the pre-existing order of house numbers.

Borough officials applied for the state grant in January, and the money that they received for the project is less than 30% of the $310,000 requested.

Still, the grant is “a great start to get us going,” said Al-Haddad.

As the project progresses, the borough may apply for another round of state grants or use its own funds.


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