Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Borough failed to effectively communicate end of Beach Road evacuation order

 

April 22, 2021



There is no mandatory evacuation zone in the Beach Road neighborhood, and there hasn’t been one for three and a half months, according to Haines Borough officials--a surprise to residents who thought they couldn’t legally return home.

“I was told it was legally binding (in December). Otherwise, I’d have been driving my truck up and down there after the temporary road was put in (in January),” said Gary Keller, whose property falls in what he believed, until recently, was a mandatory evacuation zone.

“I don’t think anyone knew that. People are still asking if that’s a red zone,” said Todd Winkel, whose house is in the same area.

When the assembly voted April 13 to reopen the Beach Road neighborhood to vehicle traffic, the CVN asked borough officials whether the mandatory evacuation order for houses immediately adjacent to the Dec. 2 landslide path would remain. Interim manager Alekka Fullerton said that there was no mandatory evacuation order in place. The CVN has routinely referred to a portion of the Beach Road neighborhood as a “mandatory evacuation zone” since December.

At an April 16 meeting, AP&T Haines power operations manager Lance Caldwell asked about the mandatory evacuation zone in connection to restoring power. The question went unanswered.

“(We’ve) been looking for clarification in that regard. Has the red zone been removed or now deemed as safe? We need verification that it no longer poses a safety hazard (before we can restore power),” Caldwell said in a Monday interview.

On Dec. 16, Mayor Douglas Olerud issued an emergency order closing Beach Road and continuing the evacuation order for homes beyond the road closure. On Dec. 18, the mandatory evacuation zone was reduced to properties on either side of the slide path deemed at risk if slopes near the top of the original landslide gave way.

“In an emergency, the Mayor may make emergency orders, but they only last for a certain amount of time. After that, they need to be approved by the assembly,” Fullerton said in an interview last week.

The Dec. 16 emergency order says the road closure and mandatory evacuation will remain in effect until Dec. 27.

On Jan. 12, the assembly voted to extend the road closure through resolution, the same resolution they eventually rescinded on April 13, but the assembly never turned the mandatory evacuation order into a resolution, so that measure expired on Dec. 27, according to Fullerton.

Beach Road residents cited it as an example of what they say is the borough’s poor communication in the wake of the disaster.

“I was so horrified by their lack of communication. It almost felt like secrecy,” said Vanessa Wishstar, whose property falls in the same area as Winkel’s. “I feel robbed of having to leave something and leave my entire life’s existence without my permission.”

Olerud said he thinks that borough officials let residents know they could enter the area at their own risk at a public meeting, but said he’s not sure when that occurred. He acknowledged that the borough could have done a better job communicating this.

“If people under the mandatory evacuation didn’t know that it had been lifted, then it’s the fault of the borough for not reaching out in a better way, so that’s on us,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Winkel said he doesn’t know of any residents who plan to move back into their houses now that they know the mandatory evacuation order has been lifted. He said it’s difficult for most residents to move back until power is restored.

Wishstar said her children’s safety is also a factor in the decision to remain in the rented apartment in town.

In an effort to facilitate communication between the borough and Beach Road residents, the assembly formed a task force earlier this month to consider short-term and long-term access issues. The task force includes borough officials, construction experts and two Beach Road residents selected by their neighbors—Winkel and Michael Balise.

 
 

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