Floodplain property buyout plan at Salmon Creek underway
A buy-out of property in the Salmon Creek floodplain is underway. Yellow outlines the Seward/Bear Creek Service Area Flood Board properties and black outlines The Conservation Fund parcels.
Some nine parcels, or 150 acres of commonly-owned land along Salmon Creek, in the area of Salmon Creek Road and Nash Road are being surveyed this summer by the SLR International Corporation. It’s largely undeveloped land that includes raging creeks that the Kenai Peninsula Borough, with financial help from The Conservation Fund, hopes to purchase from the Stewart Land Trust, and to retain in conservation for flood mitigation purposes. The purchase would be the largest single area acquired by the borough or the Seward/Bear Creek Service Area Flood Board for flood mitigation purposes. The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit organization in Eagle River will contribute $215,700 to purchase five parcels for protection of wetland habitat. The four parcels purchased with $27,700 flood board funds will have an unrestricted title.
The trust’s four owners, including James and Marguerite Stewart who live in California, Dianne Pitts of Chugiak, and Suzanne Crady of Orofino, Idaho, all are required to pay property taxes on their property, but few in the private sector would likely want to buy the swampy, forested wetland for development. If sold, the owners’ property taxes would go away. From the flood board’s perspective, the land would be a good purchase as it would prohibit development, and would allow the water to flow unencumbered through the area during a rain event, said KPB Hydrologist Dan Mahalak. It would also be good for the fish, he added.
“I see this as a very positive partnership between the borough’s SBCAFSB and The Conservation Fund,” agreed Marcus Mueller, the borough land management officer. It would not prevent flooding that already occurs in the area, so residents would notice very little difference, but at least the platted land would not be used, or developed.
The land runs from Clear Creek downstream to Nash Road, with the exception of Eadsville, and over by the bridge as far as the Pit Bar. It includes all of the parcels on the western side adjacent to the railroad, and the three properties between the railroad and the highway. There’s also land, on the north side of Nash Road between Salmon Creek Road, and north of the railroad bridge. In addition, there’s one parcel on the south side of Nash Road, owned by Diane Pitts. The City of Seward would receive a tax-foreclosed piece of land to use for public purposes in the deal. (See map)
SLR will perform an Environmental Site Assessment this summer detailing the physical properties of the area, and will conduct a records-review and interviews on the historical uses of the property. The report it produces will be the basis for a purchase agreement between the landowners and the borough, which is up for approval at its Aug. 7 meeting.
KPB East Peninsula Assembly Member Sue McClure does not believe that there will be opposition from her fellow assembly members to the proposed land purchase, especially as it has the approval the flood board’s approval.
But a new source of contention that arose at the flood board meeting July 16, was which entity would manage the land once acquired, the borough, or the flood board. Chairman Bill Williamson felt it would be a burden that a volunteer board, with a skeletal paid staff of two, would be ill equipped, and ill funded to handle.
“I’m totally against land management,” said board member Tena Morgan, “We are a flood board, not land managers.” A decision by the board on taking on that role would be premature until the survey report is completed, and talks are undertaken with borough land managers on its cost and implications, said vice-chair Randy Stauffer. The board tabled a decision on that until a later date.
Mayor Mike Navarre said it made sense for the flood board to manage the Stuart Trust land for flood mitigation, as well as the Old Mill Subdivision conservation land, where the borough has completed a buyout and mitigation/restoration of a handful of the most flooded-prone properties. But he agreed that the board should first talk with land managers to hear their rationale for why they should do so. The mayor said he “was not opposed” to using borough funding to help pay for that task.
“It would be pretty light duty,” said Mueller, explaining that managing conservation land would merely entail establishing a local presence in the area to oversee what’s happening with property. No one would need to regularly patrol it, but the board might act if things that would violate the conservation requirements were being violated, such as people camping there, or cutting down trees. The board also tabled a request for $10,000 in additional funds to finalize the buyout of the property at the July 16 meeting, calling the decision too early.