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Bethel City Council backs State of Alaska's plan for Polk Road

The proposed route for Tundra Ridge Road
Olivia Ebertz
The proposed route for Tundra Ridge Road

During their Dec. 14 meeting, Bethel City Council voted to accept the state’s plan to connect Tundra Ridge Road to the airport. Now that the city is officially on board, the state will pave the road that stretches over the Polk family property, despite the Polk family’s wishes. The council said that they had issues with the way the state claimed the property from the Polks, but felt that due to financial concerns, they had no other choice but to accept the state’s plan.

The State of Alaska claimed the private dirt road that goes through the Polks' property through a process known as eminent domain. The Polks' property is a Native allotment owned by four brothers. The Polks have been saying for decades that the state doesn’t have the right to build a road through their land, but this fall a federal judge ruled that the Alaska Department of Transportation can do just that. Now the state and the Polks are in legal talks about what a fair price to pay for the land is.

The City of Bethel came out against the eminent domain road seizure last year, saying that it would prefer an alternate option that cuts around the nearby H-Marker Lake through wetlands. But now, Bethel City Manager Pete Williams says that the city’s hands are tied. According to Williams, the state told the city that if it wanted to pursue the alternate route, it would be on the hook for over $4 million in costs that have already been spent on the project. The city would also have to match some of the costs of the next project, which it doesn’t have to do for this current project. Plus, the city would have to wait at least five years for the next project to even be considered.

Five out of six of the council members in attendance at the meeting voted for the project, though most expressed their regret at the way the land had been claimed from the Polks.

The lone person who voted against the project was Vice Mayor Conrad “CJ” McCormick.

“I know if this was my property and somebody was sticking a road through it, I wouldn't want them to do it. So I can't consciously vote for something like this. I just think it's wrong,” said McCormick.

Council member Michelle DeWitt voted for the project. She said that on the one hand, she has issues with the seizure of Native lands.

“The eminent domain has been exercised; I personally had serious issues with that as a method of obtaining land. However, if the city doesn't support this project, that it could be many, many, many years and much more expense,” said DeWitt.

DeWitt added that this will give Tundra Ridge residents a second road to access their subdivision.

“I like the idea of having emergency services available for more than one point of access to that subdivision,” said DeWitt.

According to a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation, the state plans to begin construction on the road in the summer of 2023.

Olivia was a News Reporter for KYUK from 2020-2022.
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