CIRI, Eklutna project wins development award

CIRI and Eklutna Inc.’s sand and gravel extraction project on a parcel of land in Birchwood won a Tileston Award. Wilder Construction, a subsidiary of Granite Construction Co. and the contractor carrying out the extraction operations, submitted the project for consideration. The award was presented at the Resource Development Council’s annual luncheon at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage on July 21.

Each year, the Tileston Award recognizes businesses or individuals who advance both economic development and environmental stewardship. It is presented on behalf of the Alaska Conservation Alliance and the Resource Development Council. The award is named in honor of long-time Alaskans Peg and Jules Tileston, who had long Alaska careers on opposite ends of the conservation-development spectrum but still managed to compromise and work together.

The sand and gravel extraction began in summer 2009 and is expected to last three summers. The sand and gravel is transported and sold to the Anchorage market via a new railroad spur constructed onto the property from the adjacent Alaska Railroad Birchwood yard. Eklutna Inc. owns the surface rights to the land, while CIRI owns the subsurface rights, including the sand and gravel.

The approximately 4 million tons of gravel to be removed from the site will be used for road and infrastructure development in the Municipality of Anchorage. As Anchorage has grown through the years, it has become increasingly difficult to develop gravel resources that do not negatively affect the surrounding community. The proximity of this gravel resource to the market will enable projects to be constructed at a reduced cost.

The end result of the project will be a level, industrial-zoned site. Such property is in ever-increasing demand as available sites in Anchorage have become extremely limited. Eklutna Inc. plans to build an industrial park on the parcel once sand and gravel extraction is complete.

Although this site is industrially zoned, located adjacent to a railroad yard, the Birchwood Airport and a shooting range, it also borders a residential neighborhood on two sides. Granite Construction not only addressed the community’s concerns about the project, but in many cases exceeded the minimum compliance necessary to alleviate those concerns.

One major concern was the disruption from gravel truck traffic leaving the site and travelling through the residential areas. To alleviate this problem, it was decided to only move gravel from the site by train. There would be no gravel transportation through the neighborhood. This would also eliminate approximately 300 truck loads per day on local roads and the Glenn Highway.

Another concern was the potential noise emanating from the site. Current zoning called for a 200-foot wide undisturbed buffer around the site. Acoustic experts advised that the undisturbed vegetation would only offer a minimal amount of noise abatement. Granite Construction successfully petitioned the Municipality to grant a rezoning of the property to use 100 feet of this buffer on the inside of the property to construct a 20-foot-high berm, which would better attenuate the noise.

To further lessen the noise, the project operators agreed to reduce daily operating hours and only work six days per week. It is common during the short Alaska construction season for many construction operations to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Loud back-up alarms on equipment were also replaced with “proximity” back-up alarms that make a “white noise” which cannot be heard off-site. The result has been noise readings taken during operations that are well below the allowable noise levels allowed by Municipal code.

The project also features a dust control plan involving a water tank truck and water misters on conveyors as needed and monitoring wells to ensure water levels in the area are unaffected by operations.