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Birch Hill, Hamilton Acres, Shannon Park fence needed to protect Fort Wainwright from encroachment, Army says

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Posted: Friday, October 12, 2012 4:46 pm | Updated: 2:01 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

 The Army says the new fence going in along parts of Birch Hill and behind Shannon Park and Hamilton Acres is to "enforce the installation’s boundaries."

I mentioned the fence earlier this week in this space and how I had  asked the Army why a barbed-wire fence was needed.

I’m glad to report that the Army has agreed that the fence will not have barbed wire behind Shannon Park and Hamilton Acres. City officials asked that the barbed wire not be used in residential areas and also that the fence be moved back an additional five or 10 feet from property lines.

 This will have no impact on the ski trail system as it is not on the same section of Birch Hill.

The problem on Birch Hill has been that people have been going to the old fuel tanks and applying heavy-duty graffiti on the sides and tops of the tanks.

I think the ladders on the sides of the tanks should be removed, an option under review by the Army. A spokeswoman said the Army is seeking funds to demolish and/or salvage the tanks.

 The new fence has been cut and repaired repeatedly in recent weeks. One of the other problems is that the soil is contaminated near the tanks, the Army said.

"As soon as these surfaces are disturbed by all-terrain vehicles, shoveling or just boots shuffling down dirt paths, trespassers have potentially exposed themselves to harmful chemicals, including toluene, xylenes and lead," said Joe Malen, environmental program restoration manager at Fort Wainwright, quoted in the Fort Wainwright statement.

The Army says that while residents of Shannon Park and Hamilton Acres may find the fence "unattractive and restrictive," the key point is that "encroachment onto military land is not acceptable."

Here is the press release today from Fort Wainwright:

 Health and safety issues, encroachment and federal mandates have prompted Fort Wainwright officials to enforce the installation’s boundaries.

       As a good neighbor to the community, the Army must take measures to ensure people are not able to easily access unsafe areas within the installation boundaries. Because of the potential chemical and physical dangers that exist in the area known as the Tank Farm on Birch Hill, a fence will be installed to preclude access.

Security at the Tank Farm has been repeatedly breached. Joe Malen, Environmental Restoration Program manager, said there is evidence that people have cut the fence and used other means to access the area, exposing themselves to contaminants in the soil and on the tanks.

“As soon as these surfaces are disturbed by all-terrain vehicles, shoveling or just boots shuffling down dirt paths, trespassers have potentially exposed themselves to harmful chemicals, including toluene, xylenes and lead,” Malen said. The dangerous material is then carried away from the containment area on tires, shoes, clothing and skin.

“In some cases,” Malen said, “there is evidence that off-road vehicles were barreling down one of the dirt roads or utility easements, obviously lost control and crashed through the fence, proving that in some areas, standard six-foot security fencing just isn’t enough,” he said.  In other areas, trespassers have cut the fence and attempted to drag it off with vehicles.

Some of the trespassers have climbed up the stairs to the tops of the old fuel storage tanks to paint graffiti. The 50-year-old tanks have deteriorated and officials are concerned the stairs and/or the tops of the tanks may collapse, putting people on them at risk of serious injury. Because of the gravity of the danger and the previous indications of people entering the area, the Army will install a sturdy chain-link fabric fence with barbed wire along the top.

The current fencing project is a continuation of a project that has been an ongoing effort spanning several years. Perimeter fences have already been installed along Badger Road and on the Richardson Highway boundary.

Other areas of the perimeter fence that require repositioning and repairs  are near the Shannon Park and Hamilton Acres subdivisions. In some cases, landowners encroached onto military lands and have moved their personal property, such as sheds, trampolines, vehicles, wood piles etc onto the Army land, essentially exceeding their own legal property boundaries and converting military land to private use.

“This is a measure that has been made necessary due to health and safety concerns, encroachment issues and security requirements” said Col. Ronald M. Johnson, commander, United States Army Garrison Fort Wainwright. “It is our responsibility to ensure we prevent access to these unsafe and potentially dangerous areas as well as protect the property the government has entrusted to us for training and other uses for our Soldiers and Families.”

Johnson went on to say that, “while I understand that some of the residents of Shannon Park and Hamilton Acres may find the fence unattractive and restrictive, it is our mandate from the Department of Defense to enforce the integrity of our installation boundaries. The fundamental point is that encroachment onto military land is not acceptable. ”

Fort Wainwright officials welcome recreational activity on the installation – on approved sites. For more information on recreation on Army land and recreational access permits, visithttp://www.wainwright.army.mil/env/RecAccess.html.

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