Volunteers, agencies and resource officials made progress this summer to remove several hazardous debris sites across the Kenai Peninsula’s various watersheds.
Projects included a clean up of a Seward shipwreck, plucking a car from the Kenai River’s banks and pulling an old fence up that was blocking fish passage in Soldotna Creek, among others.
Earlier in the year, Kenai Peninsula Borough resource planner John Czarnezki gathered a list of about 24 projects deemed threatening to fish passage, health and the environment of the area, among other concerns, and analyzed their costs and benefits. This summer’s list of projects were among the highest priority items, which are now mostly complete due to volunteer and multi-agency efforts and grant funding allocated to remove them.
But, Czarnezki said there are still “plenty” of projects to work on in the fall and next summer.
“I still have a list of another dozen to get to, but we’re getting there,” he said. “We’ll keep going until the money is gone.”
Most recently, contractors spent several days excavating the remains of a late 1990s shipwreck near the Spring Creek area of Seward.
Czarnezki said a tug boat named The Daring was scheduled to be sunk in the ocean, but the vessel broke free of its mooring lines in a storm and was destroyed along the beach.
“A partial clean up was done when that first happened, according to the harbor master, but the majority of it remained,” Czarnezki said. “It was apparently stripped and they took all the fuel and anything valuable off of it, but the rest of it was left there to rot.”
In total, crews removed 140 cubic yards of debris from the area, which amounts to about 14 dump truck loads and a total bill of $13,000. Czarnezki said that volume was surprising.
“There was a section of wood hull, but the most of it was just metal and (the contractor) said once he started scratching the surface, all these metal ribs that help stabilize the hull, they just found more and more and they just kept digging until it was clean,” he said.
The area was important due to Spring Creek’s salmon fishery and its recreational use for kayakers, not to mention the navigational hazard such debris posed, he said.
Among the items found were large tanks, parts of transmissions, other engine parts and some other unique items such as brass fittings.
“They found one little neat light fixture ... and one of the guys apparently kept that as a token of the project,” he said.
The program also used $13,000 to remove a jetty on the Kenai River at river mile 22.5 in late April. A total of 30 tons of debris — including construction materials like cables, concrete and rebar, along with gears, sprockets, Caterpillar tracks and a host of other items — were hauled away from the jetty. Rumor has it the site was used as a river crossing location decades ago, Czarnezki said.
Jetties are built for a number of reasons, such as bank protection, creating a safe area to land a boat or to create an area where fish hold. However, they have bad effects caused by rerouting the water’s force and taking away habitat, Czarnezki said. There is a long history of agencies working to remove such items from the Kenai River, he said.
Another item removed this summer was a car that had been buried in the ground near Cooper Landing. However, the property owners agreed and applied for a permit to remove it about a year and a half ago and did so on their own through a hired contractor, Czarnezki said.
“It is just crazy — a part of their bank sloughed off into the river and they have a high bank, probably 50 feet in the air, but a chunk of it just broke loose one day and it exposed a car sitting about 30 feet up the bank,” he said. “The car is parallel to the river like someone had just parked it there.
“Back in the old days they used to use whatever they could for fill materials and I think that was one of the things that was handy.”
Another project that cost little to no money was removing an old fence from Soldotna Creek, Czarnezki said.
“Through the years it had degraded and fallen apart to the point where a portion of it actually was collapsed and was in one of the channels of Soldotna Creek and blocking fish access,” he said.
However, several volunteer organizations — including the Kenai Peninsula Stream Watch, Trout Unlimited and Safari Club International — and individuals helped and it “didn’t cost us a dime,” he said.
Other work included a removing a washed out culvert and dilapidated foot bridge from Leaf Creek, which is about 4.5 miles north of Captain Cook State Park. That effort was also supported and funded through volunteer efforts, Czarnezki said.
On the Anchor River, the United States Geological Survey helped pull one of their gauging stations out of the river dislodged during a 2002 flood event.
“For whatever reason, they never found it,” Czarnezki said. “We didn’t know where it was and just a couple of years ago somebody said, ‘Hey, what’s that big oil tank sitting over there?’ and turns out ... it was their gauging station.”
After a few phone calls, he said the item was removed by the USGS at no cost to the local program.
“That’s helping stretch the dollars,” Czarnezki said.
There are two more projects in the Seward area Czarnezki said he would like to get to this summer, but added he wasn’t sure there was enough time to get all the permitting work done before the end of the season. However, there are still funds available for the program to continue, he added.
Czarnezki encouraged residents to call the Donald E. Gilman River Center at 260-4882 if they know of other projects that could be removed through the program.
“If something would come up that would rank higher on our criteria we would definitely move it up the list and take care of it,” he said. “For example, if we had a mapped fish stream and something happened to it where passage is blocked we can get in there and get it cleared out and provide fish passage and clean all the debris out, we’ll do it.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.