Vandalism and thefts close the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension for travel

Published: Sep. 28, 2017 at 1:43 PM AKDT
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’s 32-mile embankment has been closed to travel, after numerous incidents of vandalism and thefts in the last month.

In response, the borough took action by increasing patrols – by use of Borough employees and a security company – along the corridor.

"Patrols have been effective at reducing trespassing and criminal activity," states the Borough. "No Borough employee or contractor has fired any weapons during these patrols."

In a

on social media, officials with the Matanuska-Sustina Borough were clear about the new rules: "Responsible residents do not trespass. Please stay out of the 200-foot wide right of way for the rail embankment."

The Port MacKenzie Rail Extension’s 32-mile embankment is closed to travel. Responsible residents do not trespass....

Posted by Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Thursday, September 28, 2017

In a press release, borough officials list the vandalism damages and thefts:

- Rail embankment gates rammed

- Cut off hinges and stolen chains and locks

- Stolen and damaged signs

- Stolen barriers

- Deep ruts in the embankment from vehicles climbing the side slope

- Ruts on the top of the embankment from vehicles spinning in circles and sliding sideways.

In addition, officials claim that "a break-in also occurred at a port lessee facility."

According to the press release, the Mat-Su Borough owns the entire rail extension, including "the embankment, bridges, culverts, and the 200-foot wide right of way. Even the farthest north portion, Segment 6, which has a working rail siding for the Alaska Railroad, is owned by the Mat-Su Borough."

Before the ban, a trail system in the Big Lake area used the embankment for winter travel.

Officials with the Matanuska-Sustina Borough say, "The Rail project is 75 percent complete, and Borough officials continue to seek the remaining funding necessary to finalize the project."

The press release is careful to note the project has been funded solely by the state, and that "no Borough tax dollars have funded the design, or construction, of the rail embankment."

The Rail Extension from Port MacKenzie to Houston is more than a decade in the making, and it has been touted as increasing employment, contributions to the state and community tax base.

In 2015, the Alaska Railroad wrote, "The extension offers highly efficient offloading of bulk resources from train to ship. For Interior shippers, the new rail link shortens the distance to tidewater." Additionally, in 2015, the project was estimated to be completed by late 2017.

Channel 2 reached out to the Mat-Su Borough for comment, but they have not immediately responded.