The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Large swath of Mineral Creek ski trail system to come under city ownership

Land has previously been leased from the University of Alaska since the 1990s


March 14, 2018

Map by UAA Facilities and Land Management

The Valdez City Council has made moves to purchase 160,000 acres of land owned by UA that the city currently leases as part of the Mineral Creek ski trail system.

The ski trails on Mineral Creek are coming under city ownership.

Last month, the Valdez City Council unanimously passed a resolution to purchase 120 acres of land it has leased from the University of Alaska since 1992.

Council members Nate Smith and Dennis Fleming were absent and excused from the Feb. 20, meeting.

Complex land ownership issues that have complicated long-term planning in Mineral Creek and its city-maintained ski trails.

The resolution calls for the city to pay UA $168,000 for the two 80-acre parcels – recorded as tracts USS 697 and USS 698 - which is the appraised fair market value.

The move comes after the proposed sale was endorsed by both the Parks and Recreation and the Planning and Zoning commissions.

"City ownership would allow the Parks Department to identify needs and address them without being tied to a very restrictive permit," said Matt Smelcer, chair of the city's park's commission, in a letter to Mayor Ruth Knight dated Feb. 17. "We encourage the council to move forward with the purchase of this area before it is available for others to buy, as that could take away possibility of our residents' use of it in the future and could diminish our ski trail system by nearly half."

The Planning and Zoning Commission also endorsed the purchase.

"The Mineral Creek ski trails are a valuable community asset, and this step should be taken in order to ensure that they continue to exist in perpetuity," said Jess Gondek, chair of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission, in a letter also address to Knight and also dated Feb. 17. "Ownership of this property will better enable the City to enhance the quality of life and enhance elements that give the community its character...."

The $168,000 appraisal was made by the firm of Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson LLC in August, 2016.

In its appraisal, the firm noted that some of the land is prone to flooding.

"The soils outside the flood zones are assumed to be adequate for improved uses," the firm said in its summary of facts backing the appraisal. "A significant portion of USS 697 is in a high risk flood zone and not likely developable."

In notes supporting the appraisal, the firm said it took in economic factors for both Alaska and the City of Valdez.

Valdez Star photo

Temperatures in the 30s, plenty of sunshine and a layer of fresh snow made the easy slopes such as the water tower hill at Mineral Creek irresistible Monday afternoon – and some enjoyed the spring-like weather by snowboarding in short sleeves.

"The outlook is for little growth," the firm said in its 2016 report, which was based on a look back at the previous year and projections for 2017. "The City has also developed a tourism economy with between 150,000 and 180,000 people visiting Valdez annually, primarily in the summertime. Sport fishing and sightseeing are significant sectors of the economy."

While the oil industry and commercial fishing and processing remain important foundations for Valdez, both sectors have taken significant hits in recent years.

City leaders and the business community have long advocated for supporting one of the town's most famous assets: an abundance of snow.

"As a result of its abundant snowfall and proximity to the Chugach Mountains, Valdez is developing winter tourism by promoting its winter sports," the report says.

City development of the Mineral Creek area as a winter recreation spot – which is popular with cross-country skiers and snowmachiners alike – has often been fraught with competing interests with four separate land owners with varying policies and a reluctance on the part of city officials to invest public funds on land owned by other entities.


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