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Mat-Su Zoning Requirements Lack Faultline Disclosure Rules

By Lacie Grosvold, Multimedia Journalist, lgrosvold@ktuu.com
Published On: Mar 27 2014 08:00:00 PM AKDT

Homeowner didn't know her Houston house sits on unstable ground. 

HOUSTON, Alaska -

Tammy Bauman’s assortment of delicate hanging crystals, paintings and pictures serve two purposes in her cozy Houston home.

Bauman points to a wooden painting of a flower hanging on a wall. When the ground below starts shaking, she said the decor starts moving.

Bauman didn’t know she was sitting on a fault when she purchased her property. After an earthquake on the Denali Fault in 2002, she knew that she might be in a more seismically active area. She points to a corner of the house that rose up 10 inches during that quake. Bauman was planning on building a swimming pool in her yard, but opted for an above ground version after that shaker.

“I knew good and well there was no way we could put a solid slab of anything in,” she said.

Tammy is one of dozens living on the fault line. It’s a rural area where people have plenty of elbow room, but the Mat-Su Valley is growing fast.

Borough Development Services Manager, Alex Strawn explains the valley’s building codes on earthquakes.

“There are no requirements right now for building or zoning on seismic areas,” he said.

At this point, there isn’t a strong push to change that. Strawn said, “There’s a pretty strong feeling of private property rights and as of yet political will to adopt building codes isn’t there.”

Strawn said there is information available at the borough for home owners interested in learning if their property sits on fault lines. However, he said, not many people are interested in it.

The borough is also working on an emergency plan for any major event that might hit the area. Emergency Manager, Casey Cook said the borough plans for the worst case scenario all the time.

In case of a natural disaster, the borough has plans of where to house displaced residents.

Borough planner, Emerson Krueger said homeowners need to know more than if a fault is in their back yard.

“You got to know how likely is that fault to occur in significant movement or how likely are the surrounding soils to deform in a catastrophic way should there be a significant movement.”

Alaska’s State Geologist, Rard Koehler said there’s an indication that the soils surrounding the fault line are similar to the soils that failed in Turnagain during the quake.

Back by the fault line, Bauman said it was never her plan to live on a fault line; she works to keep up repairs on her home and be prepared for any kind of emergency. She said she loves the location with the river in the back yard.

Her scenic setting shows little indication of what’s going on beneath the surface.