Anchorage businesses remain unsafe to occupy due to earthquake damage

Published: Apr. 9, 2019 at 7:34 PM AKDT
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More than four months after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Nov. 30, several commercial properties remain under the 'red tag' classification, deemed unsafe to occupy.

Municipality of Anchorage Development Services Director Robert Doehl and his team have conducted 3,701 building inspections since Nov. 30.

Those inspections have resulted in 73 red tags on buildings determined to be unsafe to enter or occupy. 759 more have been yellow tagged — designated as safe for restricted use only.

Of the 73 red tags, 10 are businesses or commercial properties, and as of Tuesday, all 10 buildings remain unsafe to occupy according to municipal inspectors.

Doehl says that's largely due to the timing of the earthquake in the dead of Alaska's limited construction season.

"They are just getting those building permits and getting going on most of those buildings now," Doehl said. "It just takes time and you need the weather to cooperate."

Experts have noted that new damage will likely be discovered as snow melts and the ground underneath foundations thaws. But even those who were aware of full extent of damage had limited options for addressing it.

"You can't do foundation work or a lot of outside work when temperatures are below freezing or the ground is frozen," Doehl said.

The commercial properties that fall into the remain unsafe to occupy are:

-Ace Auto Body on Dowling Road

-Arctic Transmission / Arctic Self Storage on 58th Avenue

-Eagle River Elementary

-Gruening Middle School

-McKenna Bros Paving on Petersburg Street

-Microtel Inn & Suites off Old Glenn Highway

-The old AFD station on Fire House Lane

-Solid Waste Services Building A on Eagle River Loop

-The Valhalla Center on W. Northern Lights Boulevard

-Veritiv on Spar Avenue

According to data provided by the Muni, two of those locations have been approved for permits to begin repairing the damage.

While those buildings were assessed as unsafe by the city, some are finding ways to keep their businesses up and running. Ace Auto Body has moved from two buildings down to one until repairs can be made. The Valhalla Center has resumed business at several shops on one end of the building, while the portion that suffered structural damage remains fenced off the the public.

Of the 62 yellow tagged businesses, some have shut down altogether like the Eagle River McDonald's, while others have made the repairs needed to reopen. One business that opted to repair the damage is the My Place Hotel in Midtown, which reopened its doors on April 1.

Some businesses still in the process of making repairs have run into delays bringing their buildings back up to code. The Salvation Army thrift store on Dimond Blvd. remains closed as crews work to repair damage to the ceiling, lighting, and walls.

"We're targeting mid-May to try to reopen this place," said Oscar Shaw IV, the regional retail manager for the Salvation Army's Alaska Division.

He says that the loss of the Salvation Army's biggest store has been a tough on its customers.

"We're fielding a lot of calls on a daily basis," Shaw said. "It's hard to get across town for some of these folks, they don't have the transportation."

Doehl also shared figures from a FEMA a study of post-1990 construction in Anchorage. Data from that study found that 3.86% of occupants in post-1990 properties requested individual disaster assistance, while the Chugiak area saw more than 9% of residents requesting aid, and jumping to more than 19% in Eagle River.

Both areas are outside Anchorage's building safety service area where building permitting and code enforcement inspections are not voluntary.