Tales from Mat-Su: Talkeetna’s Potty Problem

Downtown Talkeetna, Alaska (photographer unknown)

Downtown Talkeetna, Alaska (photographer unknown)

More than 300,000 tourists come to Talkeetna, Alaska each year, to gawk at the scenery and marvel at the pristine nature of the Alaska experience. And flush toilets, into a decades-old, inadequate wastewater treatment system. Which contaminates all that glorious wilderness they came here to see.

Irony is not rusty water.

It’s been going on since 2013. And seems to be getting worse. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has levied fines and, while they have been reasonably forgiving in the amounts of those fines, they are starting to pile up.

Like many rural areas in Alaska, Talkeetna has stoutly resisted incorporation is a city. It’s part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, but the community of Talkeetna itself is, as they say, effectively disorganized. There is a community council, but it has no powers.

But you can’t have a permanent population of 916 people and seasonal visitors counted in the hundreds of thousands without dealing with a lot of sewage. It’s an especially bad idea when the community is at the confluence of two rivers, part of an important salmon habitat and your principle industry is all that pristine wilderness. So there is a Talkeetna Water and Sewer District, run out of the Mat Su Borough. But the treatment facilities are old, grossly inadequate and failing. The revenues from the 215 households and businesses connected to the sewer system have proven to be inadequate to do much more than operate the facility.

After a lot of angst and the usual whining, voters in the water and sewer district agreed to a 3% sales tax, with the revenues from the sales tax dedicated to repairs and upgrades to the water and sewer system. That revenue stream will service a $7.7 million loan which will make ADEC-mandated improvements and expansion of the existing sewage treatment system.

But in an effectively disorganized community like Talkeetna, trust in the government is as scarce as capacity in the sewage treatment system. For example, some righteous citizens of Talkeetna think that the Mat-Su Borough is stealing the sales tax and spending it for other purposes. Distrust of government is at the root of effective disorganization. Never mind that almost 90% of the sales tax will be paid by those tourist hordes and not by Talkeetnans. Never mind there is no evidence for those claims. Social media is full of outraged Talkeetnans. But the Talkeetna Water and Sewer District has entered into a consent decree with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The tax will partially fund the cost of the minimum improvements mandated by the consent decree.

Talkeetnans just a little brighter than the noisy folks whining about a 3% sales tax might benefit from study of the Tale of the Golden Goose. And set aside their distrust of government long enough to deal with their potty problem.


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