KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by Dora Miller

KTNA Studio

KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by James Trump

Winter Black-capped Chickadee

winter chickadee

Photo by Robin Song

Fish Lake morning

Fish Lake morning

photo: Robin Song


Study: Mat-Su’s Rural Areas Bring in More Borough Revenue than They Spend

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Earlier this month, the Mat-Su Borough released the findings of its internal cost of community services study. According to that study, the incorporated cities of the borough generate less revenue for the borough than is spent on borough services, and areas with less development generate more revenue than their services cost.

James Wilson, the borough’s internal auditor, prepared the study. Wilson divides communities into descending categories based on the level of development present: cities, unincorporated areas with community councils, and areas without community councils. (more…)

Talkeetna Council forms committee to look at Downtown SPUD

Monday, April 11, 2016

A new committee of Talkeetna Community Council, Inc. will be tasked with looking into the Downtown Talkeetna Special Land use district in the coming months.


At each of the last two meetings of the Talkeetna Community Council board of directors, concerns have been raised over the historic status of Downtown Talkeetna. The most recent discussion was spurred by the renovations taking place at the Denali Brewpub on Main Street. According to Denali Brewing’s general manager, Sassan Mossanen, the current remodel will improve the building and eventually allow for some deck seating on the roof. He says that the remodel is being done with materials and techniques that will make the building fall more in line with a historical aesthetic than it does right now.


Some community members, as well as the Talkeetna Historical Society, have expressed concerns that there currently are no regulations on how new construction must look. The current Special Land Use District, or SPUD, has restrictions on height, footprint, and other factors, but historic qualities such as rooflines and materials are guidelines, not rules. As Talkeetna grows, some fear that the historic aesthetic of the town will be lost. In addition, they say that Talkeetna’s historic district status could be at risk.


One option that garnered support at the most recent community council meeting is local review of building permits. The catch is that the Mat-Su Borough does not currently require building permits the way it has in the past. Asking the borough to resume the permitting process is on the able.


According to TCCI chair Whitney Wolff, the borough planning department’s recommendation was to form a committee to gauge the community’s desire. At its last meeting, the council did that. Currently, no meeting dates for the new committee have been set.

State and borough discuss Talkeetna sewer lagoon violations

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Representatives from the Mat-Su Borough have met with state officials regarding violations of the Clean Water Act at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon, but the details of those discussions have not yet been made public.

Mat-Su Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos confirms that the borough is in discussions with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to come to an “amicable solution” regarding the violations. Spiropoulos says he cannot share specifics because a resolution has not yet been reached.

Borough Assembly Member Randall Kowalke, whose district includes Talkeetna, believes the real goal of the meeting was to make improvements, rather than punish the borough. Kowalke also says he cannot discuss details from the meeting.

Michael Solter, Compliance Program Mangaer for ADEC, says results may take time to manifest, since wastewater remains in the treatment system for more than six months. Solter believes that the state and the borough both recognize the issue and are working in good faith to solve it.

Last November, the ADEC sent a letter to the borough, which operates the Talkeetna sewer and water system, stating that the state intended to begin enforcement actions for numerous violations the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the Talkeetna Sewer Lagoon has consistently been out of compliance on levels of fecal coliform and dissolved oxygen contained in treated water leaving the system and flowing to the Talkeetna River.

The Mat-Su Borough attempted numerous temporary fixes last summer, including skimming grease from the surface of the lagoon, replanting vegetation, and artificially aerating the system. While those efforts did yield results, they were not enough to bring the system fully into compliance.

Further meetings between ADEC and the borough are expected to take place next month.

State offers to meet with borough over Clean Water Act violations

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has started the process of an enforcement action against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for violations of the federal Clean Water Act. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:



The violations the state cites are due to inadequate treatment of wastewater from the Talkeetna sewer lagoon. The borough operates the lagoon under an ADEC permit. That permit requires that certain criteria be met in the water that is eventually released into the Talkeetna River.


Borough one step closer to selling MV Susitna

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The U.S. State Department has given the Mat-Su Borough the green light to proceed with the sale of the ill-fated MV Susitna. The sale was initially announced in September, but was subject to federal approval.

The borough plans to sell the former naval prototype to the Philippine Red Cross for $1.75 million. Because the buyer is located outside of the United States, federal clearance is required. According to Borough Attorney Nicholas Spiropoulos, the State Department informed the borough that the sale is not subject to Department of Defense controls, but export provisions from the Department of Commerce will apply. That means that the final agreement between the borough and the Philippine Red Cross will contain resale restrictions.


After Tuesday vote, Halter holds lead in Mat-Su mayoral race

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

After hours of counting and waiting for results after Talkeetna’s AccuVote machine failed, the preliminary results of the Mat-Su Borough election came in just after 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday.


The most-watched race is for Mat-Su Borough Mayor. Incumbent Larry DeVilbiss trailed challenger Vern Halter by 179 votes out of nearly 9,000 total votes cast as of Tuesday night. Halter’s lead was padded by over 100 votes after Talkeetna’s ballots were counted.


Three borough assembly seats are up for grabs as well, including District 7, which represents the Upper Valley. Doyle Holmes currently holds a lead of fifty-two votes, despite Talkeetna’s delayed ballots giving opponent Randall Kowalke a significant boost.


Debby Retherford and Sarah Welton both ran unopposed for Mat-Su School Board seats A and B, respectively, and late write-in campaigns fell well short of defeating them. Seat E was contested, with Kelsey Trimmer holding more than a 300 vote lead on opponent Wade Long after Tuesday’s votes were counted.


Proposition B-1, which would change school board seats to geographic regions as opposed to at-large positions is very likely to pass, with the ‘yes’ votes holding more than a two-to-one advantage as of Tuesday night.


Proposition B-2 would change the Mat-Su Borough’s general election date from October to November. After Tuesday, the ‘no’ votes held a lead of over 750 votes.


The final ballot question was posed only to residents of Downtown and East Talkeetna, and asked whether East Talkeetna and the river subdivision should be added to the existing Talkeetna Flood Service area. Both areas voted separately, and both votes have to pass for the annexation to take place. Tuesday’s results make it very likely that the question will pass.


Over 2,000 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted, and the official results will be announced after they are certified by the Mat-Su Borough Assembly on October 20th.

Efforts at Talkeetna sewer lagoon improve at least one problem area, says borough

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Talkeetna sewer lagoon has had its share of difficulty this year. In July and August, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the treated water was too low, and the amount of fecal coliform bacteria was too high. Now, efforts are underway to try to get the system back into balance.

Terry Dolan, Director of Public Works for the Mat-Su Borough, says that fecal coliform measurements for September are not complete, yet, but that dissolved oxygen is back within compliance. Oxygen is part of the natural process that the lagoon uses to breakdown unwanted bacteria in the treated water. Last month, borough staff began using pumps to introduce more air into the mix in the hopes that the system would come back into compliance. (more…)

Dispute between locals, borough leaves power vacuum at Talkeetna Fire Department

Friday, September 4, 2015

Earlier this year, the Upper Valley lost its Alaska State Trooper post. Now, a rift between local fire responders and the Mat-Su Borough has disrupted the Talkeetna Fire Department. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:



A disagreement between local and borough fire officials has left the Talkeetna Fire Department without either of its senior officers, and with residents wondering what the response capability of the department is.


The dispute centers on when responders are subject to the chain of command. After a trailer rolled over on the Parks Highway with no injuries, Talkeetna Fire Captain Eric Chappel went to the scene. In his mind, Chappel was not acting as a borough responder but a private citizen. He says he offered to use his own vehicle and equipment to right the trailer, but was denied by Deputy Emergency Services Director Ken Barkley, who was also at the scene. Barkley believes that Chappel was acting as a borough responder, since he said over the radio that he was on his way to the scene. Ultimately, another motorist used his truck to set the trailer upright with Chappel’s assistance. Afterwards, Barkley told Chappel that he could not respond to future calls until they had a meeting to discuss the issue.


That meeting never happened, and Chappel went public, posting his version of events on Facebook. That led to the dispute being the main focus of Thurday’s meeting of the Susitna Community Council. (more…)

Borough takes additional measures as Talkeetna sewer lagoon remains out of compliance

Thursday, September 3, 2015
Pumps installed at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon to introduce more oxygen into the system.  Photo:  Terry Dolan - Mat-Su Borough

Pumps installed at the Talkeetna sewer lagoon to introduce more oxygen into the system. Photo: Mark Cowley – Mat-Su Borough

Citing test results for August that continue to be out of compliance, officials in charge of the Talkeetna sewer system are taking additional steps they hope will improve treatment. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:


Last month, KTNA reported that the water flowing out of Talkeetna’s sewage treatment lagoon was outside of compliance for its permit for the amount of fecal coliform present. In August, fecal coliform remains out of compliance, at about five times the allowed level. While high, that number is down from July’s results, which were nearly seven times the permitted limit.


Terry Dolan is the Director of Public Works for the Mat-Su Borough, which oversees the system. He says that, while there has been measurable progress, it hasn’t been enough.


“So what that means is the repairs and the additional work that we’ve done previously this summer are insufficient, at least insufficient to help the lagoons recover fast enough to satisfy me.”


Now, what the borough has begun doing to try to improve the situation is aeration. Dolan says that pumps have been installed in the lagoons that circulate wastewater, and then spray it through the air back into the lagoon. He says that introducing more air into the mix can help break down unwanted bacteria.


“Spraying through the air and the splashing action of the water as it mixes back into the lagoon helps mix additional oxygen into the water. That oxygen helps encourage the growth of bacteria that’s aerobic, and it displaces the bad bacteria that we’re trying to get out of the water in the treatment system.”


What Terry Dolan and his staff do not know yet is whether the aeration will be made permanent. He says the system is designed so that it shouldn’t need artificial means to introduce oxygen, and that it’s possible that the system could stabilize again. They will be waiting on this month’s test results to see what needs to happen next.


“If the September numbers and we’re not satisfied with the progress we’re making, we’re going to more than likely add additional aeration at that point.”


Dolan says it’s clear that, in its current state, the sewer treatment system cannot handle the volume that it receives in the busy summer months. If the system cannot be re-stabilized, then a more permanent solution will be necessary. Funding then becomes the major obstacle if that is the case.


“We haven’t made a decision on that, a long term decision, at this point. Of course, the big challenge with these lagoons is funding. The revenue stream from sewer and water subscribers isn’t really sufficient to do any capital improvements on this.”


The borough has applied for state funds to address the Talkeetna lagoon, but Terry Dolan says the state’s budget woes prevented that. He says there are other options, such as the Alaska Clean Water Fund, and that those options are being explored in case permanent fixes are necessary. Until then, borough staff is hoping that the current measures will make it so that the system can function on its own again.