Fairbanks assembly backs illegal cabins

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Fairbanks borough assembly has passed a resolution asking that the military not tear down all the illegally built cabins in the Tanana Flats. But Army officials say the cabin removals will continue.

''Our hands are tied on the matter,'' Maj. Ben Danner said. ''There are issues with them being built to code, and on and on and on.''

The Tanana Flats, south of Fairbanks, is a popular hunting and fishing grounds for local residents as well as a military training area.

Army lawyers say the cabins need to go for liability reasons, Danner said. About 35 cabins have been removed since 1999. Roughly 50, ranging from shanties to shelters, remain. One even has a satellite dish.

Assembly members Garry Hutchison and Bonnie Williams sponsored the resolution asking that some of the structures be converted to emergency or public use cabins.

''Of course they're not up to code,'' Hutchison said. ''They're built out in the swamp and they're built by individuals. To say that there is some sort of public safety issue is a ridiculous statement. They don't fall down on your head as you walk in.''

The assembly approved the resolution Feb. 13 unanimously and without discussion.

Trespass cabins in other areas of the state, the Chugach mountains for example, have been converted to public use or emergency cabins, the measure says. It proposes that the Army initiate relationships with local organizations to take responsibility for the structures.

Danner said that if the borough wants emergency or public use cabins, then someone needs to build them.

''They've got to be built to code or we've got huge liability issues. Our lawyers tell us we can't go there.''

The trespass cabins have been a part of the Tanana Flats landscape for decades.

''It was never OK. We just didn't enforce the rules for a long time,'' Danner said.

Part of the reason for the enforcement now is that the Army wants to use the Tanana Flats more, particularly with the new Stryker Brigade. That's a faster-acting, more aggressive Army unit coming into existence in June.

''We have every intention to tear down every single cabin out there,'' Danner said. ''If the intent is to have cabins out there, we can work together on a proposal, but the cabins that are out there now have got to go.''

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