By Colette Czarnecki

Minor slide activity was detected last week from a south branch of Wrangell’s Nov. 20 fatal landslide. This photo was taken one month after, on Dec. 20, 2023. (Colette Czarnecki/KSTK)

Minor slide activity was documented near Wrangell’s landslide site 11 miles south of town, but it’s nothing to be concerned about, Interim Borough Manager Mason Villarma said. He was scheduled to meet with the state Department of Transportation and State Emergency Operations Center last Friday.

“We’ll be following up with them, as well as the causation report,” he said. “It’s really critical to us, I understand that there may have been some additional slide, really minor activity as part of the slide branching off on the south side. We want to get confirmation of that and talk through that so we can make the public aware of it.”

He said the additional slide activity on the south side is nothing concerning but geological monitoring did detect it.

To help keep residents informed of slide activity in the area, the City and Borough of Wrangell plans to create a landslide assessment website. Villarma said that will take some time to set up because it’s a process.

“When it comes to public safety, we’re not concerned about the dollar amount. We’ll find a way,” Villarma said. “That’s just  who we are as a team, we’re going to deliver for the community of Wrangell with anything public safety related. It’s just the process and the nuances. We don’t want people to lose equity in their homes or not be able to get financing or refinance.”

He said that people generally know if they’re in a higher-risk area – such as living on the bottom of a mountain slope.

As for now, the city will use the data from the weather stations on the island to alert people.

In other local news, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski visited Wrangell just before the holidays and Villarma said her visit was informative.

“Senator Murkowski’s visit was awesome. I really appreciate her making the trek down to Wrangell, actually up rather, from DC on her way home,” he said. “We had a good conversation around all our public safety related projects and investment into those.”

On top of the public safety-related projects conversation, she also visited the landslide. Afterward, Murkowski met with search and rescue and first responders who searched for 15 days for six the people killed in the slide, including one who is still missing.

She gave Wrangell officials tips about seeking congressional direct spending. 

Additionally, Wrangell could soon see infrastructure money coming in from the state – $5 million is listed in Governor Mike Dunleavy’s budget for Wrangell’s dams. If the Legislature approves the funding, Villarma says the money could help make the dams safer.

“Five million dollars doesn’t come to the city very easily,” Villarma said. “That will be used for restructuring those dams and reinforcing them so that they’re able to handle excess rainfall and other seismic activity.”

In other Wrangell municipal news, Villarma said there are other positive developments happening. 

The town’s old hospital might have an undisclosed buyer. Villarma said the city is not at liberty to discuss those details but he said it could be an opportunity for the community with the potential to expand housing and economic development.

Also, Trident Seafoods closed its operations in Petersburg, Ketchikan and Kodiak. Wrangell now has the last remaining Trident plant in Southeast Alaska.

Villarma said Wrangell is likely to see a lot of economic activities increase as a result.