The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

Flood mitigation work continues



Publisher’s note: The comments stated in this commentary are the opinion of Robert Reisner and do not represent the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area board.

Greetings again my frozen fellow citizens, I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday season. In my previous commentary, I misled you by stating that our SBCFSA had filled out a 150-page permit application. What actually happened was our SBCFSA staff filled out a 150-page grant application for a bank stabilization project. Recently the SBCFSA staff filled out two 150-page grant applications for state-funded projects. These two requests deal with gravel removal at all of our local bridge locations; the other deals with a water revetment project on Kwechak Creek.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has produced their list of state capital project priorities for FY 2013 and at Tier 1, number one priority request is the Seward/Bear Creek Flood Mitigation. Being number one on the list does not ensure that we will be successful, but our KPB Mayor Mike Navarre and our very own Borough Representative Sue McClure did really go to bat for us. Our new state Senator Cathy Giessel has been in town on several occasions, talking to people, walking around some of our local flood hot spots and I believe she will do her best for us. Citizens can contact Senator Giessel at 800-892-4843 and for House Speaker Mike Chenault you may dial 800-469-3779 to request full funding approval from our state legislators on this KPB state capital project priorities request.

“We interrupt this scheduled article for this important notice. The opinions and statements given heretofore are the opinion of this private citizen and are not endorsed by the SBCFSA, KPB, the State of Alaska or the Boy Scouts of America. Now back to our regular scheduled article.”

Our Sept. 19 flood event did produce some results. The KPB is currently creating a list of contractors, what equipment they have, where it is and contact information. This should improve flood response in our area at our next “yard swap,” i.e., flood event. DOT is concerned about the standing water along the Seward Highway that’s around the Stash & Store as well as the water behind City Express. DOT would like to unplug the culvert that runs under the highway and are considering a “spillway” for the water around the Stash & Store. This “spillway” would have culverts running under Nash Road and going through a newly cut channel between Old Nash Road and Alaska Railroad and the Resurrection River. I believe that this channel must be engineered as to protect the public infrastructure in this area.

The aerial photographs taken by Julian Kegel, published in the Sept. 27 edition of The Seward Phoenix LOG, traveled far. One was picked up in the states and in Europe. If it wasn’t for Sandy showing up when she did we would have seen a quicker federal response. We did, however, have some borough people here at the time of the our flood, as were members of the URS consultants and although they didn’t stay very long they stayed long enough to see what was happening as it was happening. I believe that this flood was perfectly timed for strengthening our case... to lessen flood risk.

URS Consultants of Anchorage is assisting the SBCFSA on the May 2010 Seward/Bear Creek Flood Hazard Mitigation, which will provide an update to this plan and to craft a priority list of mitigation projects for SBCFSA to begin seeking funding grants.

The State of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is being taken to court by the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) and now for your information and entertainment I have included their press release from Jan. 4.

Alaska Property Owners Bring Class Action Suit Against Alaska Department of Natural Resources Officials

Landowners in Juneau and Seward have filed suit against Officials of the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources on behalf of themselves and similarly situated landowners throughout the state seeking to block the state’s claim to the beds of small streams that cross their property. The land in question was patented and sold as homesteads, mining claims, and townsites between the late nineteenth century and statehood in 1959.

When these lands were surveyed, federal surveyors were required to set aside navigable rivers-rivers that were ‘highways of commerce’-for the future State of Alaska. The surveyors found that many small streams were not navigable and included them in the property that landowners bought from the government. From the time of patent until the present, landowners have treated these streams as their private property. They have been a principle source of sand and gravel in several cities. In other places they were filled and are now the sites of commercial and residential development.

In the past few years, the Department of Natural Resources instituted a “Navigability Policy” which revisits the decisions of federal surveyors. Department employees determined that if a recreational rubber raft could be floated down a stream, it would be “navigable.” They then used air photos from 1959 to redraw the property lines from the old survey plats. When a landowner sought a permit to use their land, the state asserted ownership and demanded a lease.

“The state’s claim is without basis. The landowners’ predecessors bought and paid for this land and they and the current owners have paid taxes on it. Congress specifically confirmed their ownership in the Submerged Lands Act and the Alaska Statehood Act,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF).

In Juneau, Lacano Investments sought to mine gravel from a portion of Lemon Creek that was patented in 1913 and has been mined for gravel for about seventy years. The state demanded a lease and royalty and submitted air photo maps to Lacano purporting to show new property lines.

In Seward, the state has demanded leases and royalties from private owners and the Kenai Peninsula Borough for removal of gravel from small streams that it found “navigable.” This has hindered flood mitigation efforts and added to the extensive damage that Seward suffered in recent flooding.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.


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