Floodplains purchase finalized
After clearing a few last hurdles, 150 acres of Salmon Creek river bottom lands are now owned by the Kenai Peninsula Borough. This is a culmination of over 10 years of work by several agencies and organizations to utilize mitigation funds to protect salmon habitat and manage this Seward area floodplain.
This purchase will fulfill several goals; it will prevent development within the floodplain, conserve vital wetlands, and protect habitat as required by the mitigation funds that will cover a large percentage of the funding. This purchase will also allow the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area the ability to harvest accumulated sediment and gravel from strategic pick points to help minimize flooding.
The money that passed through The Conservation Fund originated as habitat mitigation compensation for several projects completed in the Seward area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires compensatory mitigation for losses of aquatic resources that result from work authorized by Corps permits. In 2001, the Alaska Railroad completed a project that removed 11 acres of intertidal estuarine habitat; resulting in $57,194 being provided for mitigation funds. In 2005 and 2007, two other Alaska Railroad projects affected another 8.3 acres, and an additional $44,150 was provided to mitigate the loss of the affected habitat lands.
These funds were originally placed under the supervision of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust (KHLT). From 2002 to 2005, KHLT studied the Seward area to prioritize the most valuable lands for salmon habitat, and contacted many land owners in hopes of negotiating conservation easements. Later, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance (RBCA) suggested buying lands with quality salmon habitat near mile 5.5 of the Seward Highway, where property was severely impacted by the 2006 floods. There was a willing seller, but bureaucratic processes and the state’s claim to own all lands within the “ordinary high waterline” (navigability) delayed progress, and resulted in KHLT deciding against purchasing these properties.
Then, in 2009, the Japanese Creek dike road (or Levee Road) project provided an additional $180,000 to these habitat mitigation funds. This project affected several acres of wetlands and required that a significant section of Japanese Creek be relocated.
In 2010, KHLT had to pass on management of these funds, and The Conservation Fund took over. Due to previously unsuccessful efforts to gain suitable mitigation lands in Seward, a proposal was made to use these funds to buy habitat lands outside of the Seward area, where a land sale was likely to work. Having attended Flood Service Area Board meetings, RBCA’s watershed coordinator was aware that the Steward Land Trust properties represented a willing seller of suitable habitat lands. RBCA contacted all the parties involved with these mitigation funds and in one round of emails, the funds found new hope for use in the Seward area.
Ten months later, and the sale is now final. Over the years there were several agencies and organizations involved, which were critical to the completion of this project. These include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, The Conservation Fund and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Lands Department.