Historic preservation group at odds with Army

Posted: Monday, September 08, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Site Summit operated for 20 years above Arctic Valley Road with an around-the-clock crew and a mission to blast Soviet bombers from the sky.

It was one of three Nike bases rimming Anchorage during the Cold War years before being shut down in 1979.

Vandals and the elements have taken their toll on the site and the Army wants to tear down the structures after recording their layout and history.

Officials say the asbestos-laden buildings, leaky bunkers and creaky radar towers present a danger to people who illegally explore and vandalize the site.

But historic preservation advocates say the Army is moving too fast.

''What I would like to see is for the buildings not to be destroyed and give the state and municipality time to figure something out,'' said Judy Bittner, Alaska's historic preservation officer. ''They could just button it up.''

Site Summit has been touted as a potential park or tourist destination by numerous studies. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

The Nike system was designed to use a radar to track attacking Soviet bombers, then dispatch Hercules guided missile to destroy them.

Letters from Bittner, the National Park Service and Anchorage Historic Properties have argued the structures have too much cultural and educational value to be destroyed.

''Alaska continues to lose its Cold War-related sites at an alarming rate,'' wrote Marcia Blaszak, National Park Service acting regional director.

Bittner said she was concerned that Army officials had already concluded that demolition was unavoidable, even though a task force recommended the site become a park affiliated with the National Park Service.

Another recommendation proposed the Army work with the Alaska Division of Parks and Anchorage to develop a land-use plan for the Arctic Valley area, which is popular for berry picking, hiking and skiing at the volunteer-driven Alpenglow resort.

But no one has proposed a way to make the site a tourist destination, nor have they identified a source for the millions of dollars needed to maintain the site.

And a recent visit by the Army found even more damage than had been done previously, causing military officials to fret over securing the site.

''Due to a lack of funding to address appropriate maintenance of unused buildings, the property has gradually deteriorated to a point where it has become a serious liability as well as a security issue,'' Col. David Snodgrass, the Army's director of public works in Alaska, wrote in a letter to Bittner.

The Army contacted the Park Service in 2001 but had been told the agency had no funding or interest in preserving the site then, said Doug Johnson, the Army's chief of environmental resources. A similar proposal to state parks had been rebuffed.

A federal advisory council that reviews projects that involve historic properties is expected to hold meetings in October. A formal environmental study will follow, said Johnson.

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