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

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Flood board, city take measures

 

Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Phoenix Road is sometimes overrun by Scheffler Creek which tumbles down the hillside behind the neighborhood near Dairy Hill. The creek takes a sharp turn at Barwell Street and parallels the road before emptying into the Lagoon along the Seward Highway where it turns into Third Avenue. With heavy rains the placid stream turns into a foaming cataract that washes away driveways and culverts.

With so many aspects of life in Seward touched by the prospect, or aftermath, of flooding, several projects have gained momentum this year in preparation for the next storm. With back-to-back disasters striking the Seward area in 2012 and again this fall, the City of Seward has seen renewed commitment from the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about engineering a solution to the Lowell Creek drainage. The city is also pursuing partnerships with other agencies including the National Weather Service, which proposes installing rainfall and waterflow instruments above the Lowell Canyon diversion levee.

The city is examining its options at the Lowell Point Bridge which apparently survived the latest onslaught of gravel and water without significant damage. While the material that washed out of the diversion tunnel has largely been removed to fill land at the Alaska Railroad complex, north of the coal storage and loading area, the gravel and debris that is pushed out into Resurrection Bay is gradually expanding the delta at that point, leading to some speculation about whether dredging will be required to keep the Marine Sciences dock usable.

The city and contractor Metco are moving forward with a flood mitigation project in the Dairy Hill area that will provide containment and culverts for several creeks that drain into the Lagoon below Dairy Hill. Most notably, damage to driveways along Phoenix Road and the lower flank of Mount Marathon will be repaired and the upstream banks of Scheffler Creek, which threatens to wash out the street during flooding, will be strengthened.

Also within the city, Japp Creek continues to be of concern, as the stream bed hasn't been groomed recently and the levee along the south bank was severely eroded during this fall's flooding. Along with the threat to property in Forest Acres Subdivision at risk behind the undermined levee, the gravel-choked stream which meanders over private property fans out downstream and continues to flood Dimond Boulevard during every major rainfall. Emergency measures were undertaken to repair the levee but, as is true throughout the area, the remedy is to strategically remove gravel on a regular basis.

Beyond city limits, the Seward Bear Creek Flood Service Area board, which is financially contributing to the Dairy Hill project, is tackling a project on Kwechack Creek to restore the north bank which periodically washes out, flooding residential areas of Bear Lake Subdivision. The $95,000 contract is a stopgap measure pending an engineered levee that will protect the subdivision over the longer term. Kwechak Creek also washes through Questa Woods from the north and east on its way to merging with Salmon Creek.

A landowner put the kibosh on $220,000 of further flood board investment in the Tiehacker corner of Kwechak Creek by denying access through the intervening property. This puts a solution to flooding threats into a holding pattern and the monies are bound to be spent on one of three other federal disaster recovery and mitigation priorities.

The Box Canyon neighborhood of the Old Exit Glacier Road area is another disaster prone area where the SBCFSA now has a hand in regularly reconstructing a diversion levee and stream banks. The recent flooding saw an emergency response approved by the Kenai Peninsula Borough in the Box Canyon which may have prevented total collapse of the retaining levee. Immediately after the flooding rains, the SBCFSA staff was directing the reinforcement of the partially washed away dike.

At a Nov. 4 meeting of the SBCFSA, Chairman Randy Stauffer commented that a bullet was dodged this time when the late October rains stopped just in time. Significant erosion to flood mitigation structures reinforced over the past year, including the airport levee, barely kept truly disastrous damage from being inflicted on local property.

The SBCFSA board also recently considered the purchase of a 72-acre property now largely compromised by braids of the Resurrection River including the main channel. The large parcel is immediately adjacent to the airport and the board deferred spending the already budgeted monies of around $100,000 in favor of the Alaska Department of Transportation's interest in acquiring the property. DOT has reportedly been in favor of having the City of Seward acquire the airport property and surroundings and lease it back to the state for operation of the Seward Airport.

The city already owns several parcels sprinkled throughout the vicinity. The problematic Crawford Subdivision, which was cut off from access by a Seward Airport extension, lies directly to the southwest of the long runway. It is home to lots threatened by the wandering river and ownership is spread between close to a dozen parties, including the city. There are several other major private land holders adjoining the airport whose property is without foreseeable road access or easements. The lands lie directly in the path of the unmanaged Resurrection River and include the Leirer Family Limited Partnership with 28 acres and Wanda Sue Smith with 62 acres.

At the Nov. 4 SBCFSA meeting, board member Bob Reisner commented that raising the airport runway by 18 inches, which is recommended by a 2008 revision of the airport master plan, is not going to solve the issue of the annual accumulation of gravel in the river bed. Although the $500,000 dike, completed in October, prevented erosion of the newly patched main runway, Reisner asserted that DOT was merely addressing the effects without dealing with the cause.

In a recent conversation with The LOG, Alaska Railroad Corporation Vice President Jim Kubitz concurred. Both Reisner and Kubitz point to moving the main channel of the Resurrection River back to its former course as an obvious solution. Reisner says that that area should be an annual mitigation site like many places. Until that happens, we will have flooding at the airport.

 

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