Alaska Native
Powder Reserve
Eklutna, Inc. rescues Anchorage housing with Eagle River development

By Alexandra Kay

Eklutna, Inc.


efore Anchorage was a city, the Dena’ina Athabascan people called the area home. One of their eight local villages was Idlughet, situated near the glacier-fed Idluytnu river. Today, both the village and the river are named Eklutna.

The city grew up around the Eklutna people’s fish camps and hunting grounds. The unification of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough into a single municipality in 1975 tied the Eklutna village even closer to the city, one more link in a chain of suburbs along the Glenn Highway through Eagle River and Chugiak.

A freeway interchange built near Fire Lake in the ‘90s surmounted the highway as a barrier to westward development. While a Fred Meyer supermarket opened at one side of the interchange, a residential subdivision sprouted across the highway, off a feeder street called Eklutna Park Drive. At the end of the street, the Eklutna village corporation, Eklutna, Inc., operates a gravel pit, just one of the many commercial ventures by Eklutna, Inc. as the largest landowner in Anchorage.

Among the village corporation’s more than 100,000 acres is undeveloped land on the opposite side of Eklutna Park Drive. The wooded tract overlooking Lower Fire Lake backs onto a subdivision near Chugiak High School. Eklutna has its eye on turning the property into the newest bedroom community in Eagle River.

But it couldn’t happen until a change of circumstances led to a mutually beneficial arrangement between Eklutna and city hall.

Amending the Settlement
In October 2023, Eklutna and the Municipality of Anchorage (MoA) signed an Amended Methane Gas Settlement Agreement. The amendment calls for Eklutna and MoA to work together to create a residential subdivision called Powder Reserve West. The plan calls for the development to be completed in phases, with the first phase including a minimum of twenty residential housing units.

The original settlement agreement in 2017 involved a different tract of land referred to as Powder Reserve. The 2023 amendment was filed after Eklutna acquired a neighboring parcel of land from the Alaska Railroad in 2021.

“We just acquired the property about three years ago and have been talking about shifting focus to this new parcel so we could expand the footprint of the development to include more commercial and perhaps some public facilities and to look at reducing the cost to the public on water and sewer,” says Kyle Smith, director of land assets at Eklutna, Inc. “The municipality was going to have to spend more money to bring that facility online, but Powder Reserve West is a project where you have a lot of the infrastructure right next door, and it will allow both us and the municipality to move quicker.”

Because the city-owned Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility has a role in installing new water and sewer infrastructure to reach the new homes, the 2017 agreement needed refinement.

Smith says, “The new, amended agreement puts the gates in place for us to hit as we go through the development process for Powder Reserve West.”

Treasure from Trash
Methane has nothing to do with the housing development, except as a sort of bargaining chip. The gas doesn’t come from the property; it’s a byproduct of garbage decomposition at the Anchorage Regional Landfill. The city sold landfill methane as fuel to Doyon Utilities, earning millions of dollars. Eklutna, it turns out, was entitled to a share of that bounty.

When the village corporation received its land conveyance through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Eklutna and the municipality struck the 1982 North Anchorage Land Agreement. Anchorage would split revenue earned from developments on “public interest land” 50-50 with Eklutna.

In 2013, Eklutna filed a lawsuit claiming that landfill methane was such a development. The suit was settled in January 2017 with MoA paying Eklutna $5.75 million, and some of the money was attached to the future development of the Powder Reserve residential subdivision, including of two housing projects.

aerial view of the North Eagle River interchange with the Glenn Highway

Seen from a drone aircraft, the North Eagle River interchange with the Glenn Highway is in the upper left. The vantage point, looking southeast toward Mt. Gordon Lyon, is directly above the planned Powder Ridge West residential development.

Eklunta, Inc.

In the settlement, Eklutna agreed to speed up construction on two housing projects in the Eagle River area, Powder Acres and Powder Hills (the Powder Reserve residential subdivision). Once Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility completed the construction of water lines to the area, Eklutna had three years to complete the Powder Acres lots and five years to complete the Powder Hills lots. If Eklutna failed to complete the lots, it would have to pay $2 million back to the municipality and waive its rights to share revenue on 1,000 acres of MoA-designated land. Eklutna also released its claim to two other parcels of land in the agreement.
The Alaska Housing Spiral
According to a recent study by Anchorage consulting firm Agnew::Beck, Alaska needs an estimated 27,500 new housing units over the next decade, yet recent permitting covers barely one-fifth of that rate. In 2022, just 578 new housing units were authorized for construction statewide. Too few homes available make the remaining supply less affordable.

In 2022, rents in Alaska jumped by more than 7 percent on average, the highest increase in more than a decade, according to MoA figures. And housing prices rose 43 percent from January 2020 to May 2023, “putting homeownership further out of reach.” Without places to live at affordable price points, workers are discouraged from moving to, or staying in, the state.

“Housing is tight, and we’re not able to bring it on quickly enough to attract talent and people who want to come to Anchorage, and it’s becoming a bigger concern,” says Smith. “Housing stock is dated and expensive, and it’s hard to find something that accommodates larger families.”

In a vicious spiral, a housing crunch feeds into a labor shortage, which is a further obstacle to finding enough construction workers to build more homes. That is, if Anchorage had enough prime locations to put them.

“Housing is one of the key parts of expanding our economy, and we [in Anchorage] don’t have a lot of land for that,” Smith says. “I think we’re one of the few communities that have lost population in the last few years. Housing is probably a part of that.”

By clearing up the methane revenue dispute, Eklutna is ready to move ahead with developing Anchorage’s largest subdivision in more than a decade, with hundreds of single-family homes. While the planning process just started, the project could equal nearly the entire city’s worth of new home construction each year. Thus, Powder Reserve West will help to alleviate at least some of the housing shortage stress.

Subdivision Vision
With the project in the permitting stage, Eklutna is currently preparing an application for rezoning the area. This includes pulling together a wetland delineation study, an economic viability report, and the Phase 1 environmental site assessment, according to Smith, who says the rezone plan will be presented to the local community council once it’s complete. “We’re paying engineers to pull together our concept of what the community will look like. This hasn’t been done in Anchorage for a decade or two.”

The rezone application needs to be submitted to MoA by mid-October of this year. Then, after the rezone is approved, Eklutna has a year to submit its plat for approval, laying out lot boundaries and street alignments.

“Once recorded, we can start building the subdivision,” says Smith, who notes that the specifics of the phases will be put together once Eklutna knows what’s been approved with zoning, but the goal is to move more quickly than the timelines laid out in the agreement.

“I would expect the first group of houses to be something similar to what we’ve done in the past, a residential subdivision of single-family homes. We have a lot of experience with that,” says Smith.

The master plan also calls for a slice of commercial development beside the southbound Glenn Highway off-ramp at North Eagle River. Depending on which tenants set up shop, residents could run some errands without crossing the highway, improving livability for the new neighborhood and for the subdivision south of Eklutna Park Lane.

Smith says, “We think there’s a fit for some commercial, as well, to make it more of a walkable community. People wouldn’t necessarily have to drive back into Eagle River to go to the grocery store or a restaurant, but analysis will tell us that.”

Funding for the development will come from a few different sources, says Smith, including the $2 million allocated by MoA as part of the settlement agreement. There will also be sewer improvements in the area, with money coming from the US Environmental Protection Agency. “The rest of the project will be self-funded by Eklutna and others as we get loans and use our own capital to build the single-family housing and then work with folks on commercial projects or multi-family housing in the future,” Smith says.

The Future Is North
“We really want to partner with the municipality and find solutions that really work best for the community and that have amenities for the community,” says Smith, who notes that the project has opportunities for trails and connections to nearby parklands the likes of which Anchorage hasn’t seen before. “But that’s really our preliminary vision, and we’re only four months into the planning.”

City hall is looking forward to the Powder Reserve development, too, as a way to boost the fortunes of all of Anchorage. “We need more housing now,” says a statement from Mayor Dave Bronson’s office. “The amended methane gas settlement agreement will bring over 1,100 housing lots to the market in Eagle River.”

Smith believes Eklutna is a big part of Anchorage’s future. “We’ve been talking about Eklutna being the key to housing and revitalization in Anchorage, and if we do it correctly, it could connect into our Powder Reserve area as well,” says Smith. “It could be bigger. Beyond that, we have thousands of acres for potential residential, commercial, and industrial development throughout northern Anchorage, and we really feel that where Anchorage goes with development really is to the north.”