Willow families appeal Mat-Su Borough land assessments on property damaged in Sockeye Fire
There’s a battle in Matanuska-Susitna Borough — almost 200 property owners in Willow are fighting land value assessments, what they use to determine property taxes.
While appeals on assessments are normal, nine of the properties were scorched in the Sockeye Fire last year, yet some families tell say the borough still assessed their land at the same value as the year before.
It’s been nine months, and signs of the Sockeye Fire can still be seen in Willow, like pieces of orange and pink marking tape used by the fire department to mark hot spots.
Gordon Boeve and his daughter Talon say the deepest scars are in the trees, where the June fire left hotspots burning under the roots, even into September.
Surrounded by acres of charred trees, their home survived — an unexpected blessing. But now the Mat-Su Borough’s assessed their land at the same value as the year before, “And you look at the picture and you go, ‘Um … that can’t be true,'” said Gordon.
But the numbers tell them the property hasn’t changed. That’s why Talon and Gordon, and others spoke out at the last borough Assembly meeting.
“It will take my entire lifetime before the trees I hope to plant this year will begin to resemble what was consumed by flames in hours last summer. Even still, I will rebuild my piece of the Alaskan dream, one charred tree and one green seedling at a time, all I ask is for you to acknowledge that I have more work ahead of me than before that fire last year,” said Talon during public testimony.
June 14, 2015 is the day Gordon put the family’s sprinkler on the roof, and Talon took one last look at her home as they evacuated. It’s a day that forever changed their lives, and their land.
“We can’t replace these trees, not that quickly. It’s gonna take decades,” she said.
But how do you put a price on trees?
“When you start to look around, I don’t know how you can’t put some value because it changes the land when the trees are, when the trees change,” said Gordon.
“It feels different. It feels scorched. It feels barren,” said Talon.
Whatever it’s worth, to them, their 40 acres will never been the same.
Mat-Su Borough assessor Brad Pickett declined an interview, citing pending appeals. He said the board will start hearing those appeals sometime this month.
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