FERRY, Alaska — Whether residents of Ferry support or oppose the Eva Creek Wind Farm, they seem to agree on one thing: The project has changed this tiny community forever.
The estimated 33 residents who live in Ferry, 14 miles north of Healy, chose to settle here for a reason. It is remote yet accessible to the Parks Highway. To get across the Nenana River, where most homes are located, residents must walk or ride an all-terrain vehicle across a narrow footbridge attached to the Alaska Railroad bridge.
Ferry residents are self-sufficient and embrace a secluded lifestyle.
All that is changing with the development of the $93 million Golden Valley Electric Association wind project.
Big project, big impact
Terry Hinman’s home is right at the Ferry Bridge over the Nenana River. He has lived in the Ferry area since 1979.
All of the estimated 200 wind farm workers go by his house on their way to work from the project camp on the Ferry Road.
“I was squeezed in the middle of all this activity, all this noise,” said Hinman, who is retired from the Alaska Railroad. “It became an interstate.”
When crews worked 24 hours per day, seven days per week, the roar of vehicles was constant, he said.
He said workers have been disrespectful and discourteous, parking on his private property and revving their quads — all-terrain vehicles — as they drive by at all hours.
“There are tons of quads,” he said. “Everyone has quads going back and forth.”
Safety is a big issue for Ferry resident Kathy Lake.
She cited the example of a white pickup truck that nearly crashed into the school bus one day.
“They pull out without looking,” Lake said.
Another time, she said, a semi tractor-trailer raced down the new road into the rail yard and “nearly rear-ended my kids going up the hill.”
Flaggers were a huge help with the traffic initially, she said. But those flaggers aren’t on the payroll anymore.
Because sole access to the area is across one narrow footbridge, traffic there is constant. Locals are supposed to have the right of way, which is especially important in the morning when children are trying to catch the school bus on the other side of the bridge.
Lake complains that the bridge is blocked daily, but other residents say they haven’t experienced that. Trudie and Jim Oudekerk ran into that problem with their children one time, alerted the contractor and said it never happened again.
“Ever since the project started, all the way last year, they always were courteous to me and my family,” Trudie Oudekerk said. “I think they really did work hard with the community.”
Other neighbors agree.
DeVere Pieschl, 79, lives at the busy intersection of the railroad and the new road.
“I have a pretty positive attitude about it,” he said. “It’s impacted me the most, but in a good way.”
GVEA purchased nine acres of his land at a substantial price and offered to run electricity to his cabin, free of charge. Electrical sub-contractors lease his former volleyball court, which they transformed into a parking lot.
The longtime Alaskan can stand on his front porch and watch the action up close.
“At shift change here, there were 160 people working, and they’re all down in front here,” he said. “There’d be as many as 40 pickup trucks sitting in this immediate area.”
“I’d think, ‘How do they keep from running into each other?’”
Pieschl is skeptical about whether the wind farm will succeed, but he figures progress can’t be stopped.
“A lot of lives will be improved because this whole thing went on,” he said, referring to his Ferry neighbors.
That already has happened.
In addition to hiring some Ferry residents to work on the project, five families had the opportunity to hire well drillers, who were already on-site for the project. Five families now have wells.
Temporary housing for workers is on private property, leased from a Ferry resident. Space for parking on the highway side is leased from that same resident and from the Ferry Homeowners Association, a group of residents on the other side of the river.
When the work ends
Residents got a special tour of the project this summer and were invited to autograph the blades of the turbines before they were installed.
Soon, almost all of the workers will leave and a small maintenance crew will remain. At least one Ferry resident is out-of-state being trained to be on that team.
The 10 miles of road to the turbines also must be maintained, by a Golden Valley employee. Ferry residents say that might not be as easy as it sounds, because of high wind, drifting snow and overflow covering the road in certain spots.
More people now know about Ferry, thanks to the project.
That fact will further increase the use of the area by hunters and ATVers, which concerns Kathy Lake. She worries about the project adversely affecting hunting in the area, migration of cranes and tundra swans. She also has 25 years of hard work invested in her homestead, so she is not going anywhere.
“I just hope they work as advertised,” she said, of the turbines. “That would be the best possible outcome.”
One wish of Lake’s likely will not be satisfied.
“Don’t drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” she said. “I just see this as opening the door. Stay out of my way.”
Ironically, Lake wore a GVEA jacket during her public protest last week, when she displayed a homemade sign that said, “GVEA Blows.” Her husband is a GVEA employee.
She admitted he is a bit concerned about her outspokenness.
“I let nobody walk all over me,” she said. “Doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from. My kids’ safety way outweighs any money from anybody.”