Girdwood trooper post to remain open through June

The Girdwood post of the Alaska State Troopers, originally slated to be closed Jan. 1, will remain open at least through June 30, troopers say.

In a statement released Wednesday, troopers announced that a sergeant, four trooper positions and two highway patrol troopers will remain at the station until the end of the department’s fiscal year. The extension came at the request of the Municipality of Anchorage, said Alaska State Troopers Director Colonel James Cockrell. One of those four troopers transferred to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, but the position technically remains at the Girdwood post, he said.

“Currently we’re leasing a facility in Girdwood,” Cockrell said. “Our intention was to drop the lease at the first in the year.”

With the original planned closing of the Girdwood post in mind, the department’s budget was not drafted to account for the $40,000-$45,000 it will cost to continue leasing the building from January through June, Cockrell said. The decision to keep the post open was just made last week, and Cockrell said the department is still working to adjust and make sure the cost of leasing the Girdwood building, paying its janitorial staff and utilities, will be covered since it wasn’t planned for.

Once the post does close, troopers will save $80,000-$90,000 annually, Cockrell said. Cutting costs was not the main reason for deciding to shut the post down, though. Cockrell and Captain Andy Greenstreet, commander of the E Detachment that covers the peninsula and Girdwood, said the troopers, who are supposed to be transferred to the Peninsula, are to help with the loss of troopers for the area in the last fiscal year.

“A good portion of (work in Gidrwood) is patrolling the highway… whereas on the Kenai Peninsula we’re responding to more criminal activity,” Cockrell said.

The E Detachment lost five trooper positions since July, said Greenstreet, including an Alaska Bureau of Highway Patrol position, a domestic violence follow-up position, a cold case investigator and a background investigator.

Cockrell said the plan is for four of the seven troopers in Girdwood to be transferred to the Kenai Peninsula following the close of the Girdwood post, three of which will go directly to Soldotna. Greenstreet said he would bring them on into general positions rather than recreate the specific roles that were lost.

“I’ve got an obligation to the entire detachment,” he said, adding that improving trooper response out to Anchor Point will be important. “I’ll be taking a look at that. I’ll obviously be looking at Nikiski. That’s absolutely on my radar.”

Greenstreet said the danger of permanently designating a trooper to be in one community is that it could end up taking away from another. If a trooper were permanently stationed in Nikiski, but Sterling started experiencing a rash of crimes, it wouldn’t be fair to keep that trooper from responding, Greenstreet said.

“With the limited number of troopers that I have, I have to be very fluid in how I designate those troopers,” he said.

Girdwood residents will have the option to vote for increased taxes to maintain police services, Cockrell said. In the meantime, Alaska State Troopers will maintain a presence in that area when it comes to the highway incidents that happen there most often.

“Our intent is to actually have three troopers assigned to the Bureau of Highway Patrol,” Cockrell said.

Currently, Girdwood troopers patrol from mile 55 to mile 112 of the Seward Highway, according to the release. Eventually Anchorage could extend its police services to mile 75 of the Seward Highway, Cockrell said.

The transition of troopers from Girdwood to the Kenai Peninsula would be pretty seamless, Greenstreet said.

“The beauty of the troopers is that a trooper is a trooper,” Greenstreet said. “We train in all aspects of the job and there wouldn’t really be any retraining.”

Cockrell said the Alaska State Troopers are still dealing with the potential elimination of another seven to nine trooper positions in next year’s budget.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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