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River debris removal program moving forward

Posted: January 10, 2012 - 6:52pm

An effort to remove hazardous debris collected across the Kenai Peninsula’s various watersheds has picked up steam and a local resource planner expects the clean-up effort to begin in the spring.

Kenai Peninsula Borough resource planner John Czarnezki said recently he had gathered about 30 problem projects identified by residents through the last several months and, with the help of field experts, has narrowed and prioritized that list into 24 items.

“Over time stuff ends up in the rivers whether it’s from a flood event or just structures falling apart through the years,” he said. “The nice thing about this program is that we are being made aware of them and we will be able to get that stuff out and hopefully improve the habitat.

“Overall it is doing what we hoped it would do — open our eyes to the issues.”

The idea is to use secured and potential future funding to help remove the build up of junk and debris that can, or has, turned into navigational or environmental hazards.

“We went and looked at everything people told us about,” Czarnezki said. “In some situations the projects or the things people called in either didn’t fit the program or weren’t really problems. So what we ended up doing is eliminating a handful of them.”

Czarnezki said he recently started moving down the list contacting property owners and various agencies to lay the groundwork for the project.

He said the borough has applied for additional funding to supplement the $74,000 already secured through grants.

“We are hoping we can bump that up to about $86,000 if we get this additional $12,000,” he said.

He doesn’t anticipate getting through all of the 24 projects with the money currently available, but hopes that as funding turns up he will be able to “to chase those projects down and try to get them cleaned up.”

“If people are aware of things we will gladly take the information,” he said. “By all means … we want to know about it.”

Watershed experts ranked the collected projects and information on a number of criteria including importance to fish passage, potential environmental or health hazards, coastal proximity, access and the benefit versus the cost, Czarnezki said.

The highest-ranked project is the Soldotna Creek project, which entails removing an old fence blocking one of the channels.

“Through the years it has been collecting leaves, twigs, branches and it’s like a little dam, … fish can still get up through the other channel, but it is blocked in this one,” he said.

The good news is that the state now owns one side of the fence and the city of Soldotna the other and both are willing to help with the effort.

“We’re hopefully going to be able to move down a bit further down our list because we have got cooperation from these folks and we are hoping that we find that throughout here as we move down the list,” Czarnezki said.

The second highest project is a jetty just down stream of the River Center building.

“It is a collection of old machinery, Caterpillar tracks, tires, wheels and heavy equipment junk that was put into the river and … I believe the idea was to create a jetty,” Czarnezki said.

He noted there have been a number of other jetties found and removed from the Kenai River over the years.

Two other projects include collapsed and abandoned bridges — one in Bishop Creek in the Nikiski area, and one on Leaf Creek, near Point Possession. Included are several abandoned cars and other junk in the Anchor River area.

“That one is from the 2002 floods,” he said. “It created quite a mess down there and there is still some rather nasty stuff hanging out there.”

Although he expected to find some, the amount of abandoned vehicles was surprising, Czarnezki said.

“I expected to see them because I had some knowledge of them at different locations, but I didn’t expect the number of them in so many different locations,” he said. “That came as a surprise.”

 

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