Butte neighbors band together to fight 'compounds'
Neighbors in the Butte are banding together to deal with several “compounds” they say are causing problems in the area.
For more than 40 years, Mike Sweeney has lived on a small parcel of land off Bodenburg Loop near the Old Glenn Highway.
A walk to the back of the property shows a mess people can’t see from the road.
“Most of what you see right there is straight-up household trash,” Sweeney pointed across his property line.
Dozens of broken-down cars and what looks like a small landfill litter the land behind his home.
This is what people around here call "The Compound."
The property belongs to Robert Mason Henry and Raymond Close. Staff at the Mat-Su Borough said the two men live in the Lower 48 and the property has been taken over by squatters.
Sweeney said people come and go at all hours of the night; they live in cars, campers and even a semitruck on the property.
He’s worried about the human waste they’re leaving behind.
“The lack of any sanitation over there. No outhouses, did you see any?” Sweeney said. “And the Borough and the DEC said they don’t do anything about that residentially so it’s a concern.”
A hike up the Butte gives a bird’s eye view at the extent of trash on the 7.5 acre compound. KTVA counted an estimated 75 vehicles and spotted several people walking around, going into an RV on the property.
Sweeney knows there are other trouble spots around the Mat-Su. It’s not just a Butte problem, but he’s sick of living next door to one.
“It’s the same kind of activity, people who aren’t taking care of the property. It’s a little bit hard to take. It’s getting tiresome,” Sweeney said.
People who live a few miles down Bodenburg Loop are dealing with a compound of their own.
They said junk at Preston Pyrah’s place brings in junkies who hang out in cars they leave on the side of the road.
“Every day I look out my window before I let my children go outside to see what is around, who is around,” one woman said.
Two women who live in the area don’t want to be identified because they’re afraid of retaliation from the Pyrahs.
They wanted to share their story because they said something needs to change.
“I’m tired of being scared. I’m tired of fearing for my kids. They deserve better than this,” her friend added. “We’re about working together and bringing each other cookies at Christmas and not having needles at bus stops.”
The compounds were the focus of a special community meeting at Butte Elementary where about 100 people turned out to talk about possible solutions.
Neighbors testified they were fed up.
“When their decisions begin to affect my family, that’s when their rights end and mine begin and I’ve had it,” said David Miller.
The meeting brought the residents together with their state representatives, Mat-Su Borough staff and Alaska State Troopers.
The borough is limited when it comes to legal options for dealing with the compounds. As a second-class borough, the Mat-Su doesn’t have police powers and has to rely on code compliance officers to get the job done.
“Our officers are not carrying guns, they can’t arrest people. We can’t pull people over,” said development services manager Alex Strawn. “Our biggest stick we have is citations so we hit them in the pocketbook.”
Covering a landmass around the size of West Virginia means borough resources are also stretched thin. Last year the assembly added funding for another attorney to handle the large volume of violations and a fourth code compliance officer who started at the beginning of October.
“Between the four officers we have 200 open cases. And I can tell you that as bad as these three places are, there are several others throughout the borough,” Strawn said.
The Mat-Su Borough has filed a lawsuit against Henry and Close for violating the junk and trash laws. The civil suit is complicated, though, because the borough can’t find the landowners who live out of state and have evaded legal contact.
Borough attorney Nick Spiropoulos said the owners told him they plan to evict the people squatting on the property but still haven’t answered the borough’s lawsuit.
“We don’t care if he’s out of state. We don’t care if it’s hard for him to do, he’s supposed to comply with the law and we’re not going to drop our case unless or until he does,” Spiropoulos told the crowd at the community meeting.
Alaska State Trooper B-Detachment Commander Capt. Tony April said he feels the community’s frustration but it will take more than law enforcement to solve the issue.
“It’s not just a trooper problem or a borough problem, it’s all of our problem. All of our problem, and the solution is going to come from all of us together,” Capt. April said.
With the repeal of Senate Bill 91, Palmer Sen. Shelley Hughes said the Legislature toughened the laws back up. Now they’re trying to figure out how to help reform people while they’re in the correctional system.
“What can we do to help them turn their life around so they don’t go back out the door and live on a drug compound. It’s not an easy thing but we’re going to do what we can,” Hughes said.
While there seems to be no quick fix, Sweeney and the ladies down the road said they’re glad the whole neighborhood is finally coming together to talk through the problem.
“My general take away is that everybody is doing what they can,” Sweeney said. “What they’re doing doesn’t feel satisfactory but they’re working within the law, so they’re doing what they can.”
“I don’t feel alone anymore where the last three years I felt like it was just us,” one woman said.
Online records show the Mat-Su Borough is also engaged in a civil lawsuit with Preston Pyrah with a court hearing coming up on Oct. 30.
KTVA left a message with a person who answered the phone at Pyrah’s home. The person took a message and said Pyrah would call back. As of Sunday afternoon, no one has returned our call.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
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