Board talks of what is needed to mitigate flooding
The regular meeting of the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area Board Monday evening was sparsely attended compared to the turnout for the multi-agency flood meeting on Saturday. Reports by Seward City Manager Jim Hunt and Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Manager Scott Walden were followed by a presentation on the 2012 Flood Emergency by Service Area Coordinator Stephanie Presley.
Hunt offered that there is some reason for optimism that the Army Corps of Engineers will assign this flood event the consideration it deserves. He stated that the initial reports and images from the flood aftermath are now on desks in Washington D.C. at Army Corps headquarters and that there is some fresh blood at the Army Corps. He is hopeful they will seize the initiative, specifically in dealing with the Lowell Canyon drainage.
Hunt also said that continued engagement between governmental agencies and pressure from the public is vital. “It’s an unfortunate situation and it’s gonna take millions to deal with it. It’s painful, but that’s what it’s gonna take,” he said.
Acting chairman Randy Stauffer queried Hunt concerning removal of gravel surrounding the Lowell Creek chute. According to Hunt the city is moving gravel and looking for disposal alternatives that don’t cause conflicts with state agencies. He also submitted that there are many other masses of gravel required relocation.
Walden reported that the borough was moving forward with preparations for winter and securing problem areas in preparation for freezing temperatures. Complete evaluation of flood damage awaits study by teams to arrive over the next few weeks. He stressed that it was very important for the public to step up and support mitigation projects.
Walden made way for KPB Floodplain Administrator Dan Bevington, who discussed permitting for remediation and improvement projects, specifically within floodplains. According to Bevington, the borough mayor has waived fees for all permitting and is encouraging participation in the permit process. This will help prevent projects, especially within active flood channels, from causing inadvertent damage to neighboring property.
At this point Seward area floodplains are pretty well mapped and getting permits should be comparatively quick and straightforward. “Let’s recover in the right way that benefits everyone,” concluded Bevington.
Donna Glenz, City of Seward planner, explained that there are no fees for permitting. Permits are required for any type of human development within a floodplain. She said that, on this score, the city would make its resources available across the area. “It doesn’t make any difference if you’re in or outside city limits. We’re all in this together,” she said.
In front of her presentation, Presley informed everyone that the service area offices at the Seaview Plaza are open four days a week. Shortly thereafter, she launched into a pictoral depiction of the intersecting flood channels within the Seward area. Kwechak Creek and Box Canyon were dramatic examples of unfortunately frequent destructive flooding.
From the 1950s diversion of Kwechak Creek by the Alaska Railroad to the difficulties in getting cooperation from CIRI in mitigating flood risk in the Box Canyon area, manmade contributions to the risk to life and property were evident. Also apparent were the efforts by the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area prior to and during the recent flood emergency.
According to Stauffer, most issues and risks are known to the service area but funding is a huge problem. The flood board is not intended as a managing entity during flood emergencies, but rather should be focused on managing area floodplains to minimize risks to life and property. Although the service area and the board stepped up and spent half their yearly capital budget in anticipation of this latest event, the flood board doesn’t have funds for emergency management.
Comments from the board and the public ranged from the epigram, “Seward isn’t a town with a flooding problem. It’s a town with a gravel problem.” to calls for more coordination and accommodation between state, borough and local agencies. Matt Gray of the RBCA suggested making some room for rivers and streams as well as increasing water flow through de-facto dams like road and railbeds by installing larger culverts.
“It’s a community issue but we need to work with DOT, DNR and the railroad. Ultimately solutions require big bucks and that means federal funds. We need to keep these issues in front of our Congressional representatives,” Stauffer concluded.