In early November last year three windstorms swept through the Kenai Peninsula, leaving more than 13,800 homes in the dark and accumulating damages of more than $1.8 million in emergency response, shelters and road clearing, according to a Nov. 22, 2011, press release from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre declared it a disaster.
“Probably half of our membership experienced some sort of power outage,” said Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for Homer Electric Association.
OEM Director Scott Walden said the disaster is one of the three profound weather events that stand out in his mind. The other two, he said, were last winter’s heavy snow fall — a record breaker for Anchorage and other parts of the state — and this year’s mid-September flooding.
When leftovers from three typhoons rattled through the Peninsula beginning Sept. 15, roads and residences in Seldovia, Anchor Point, Homer’s East End Road, Funny River Road, Soldotna’s Big Eddy Road, Sterling and Seward were inundated, said Walden and Jennifer Carle, Alaska Department of Transportation maintenance and operation contract engineer.
In those areas, DOT documented 38 sites with damaged roads.
“There were washed out roads, debris removal, embankment failures, cleaning out debris from ditches, unclogging culverts, replacing culverts, replacing armor rock (to project embankments from erosion),” Carle said. “It was very broad.”
The widespread nature of the event — which the borough mayor also declared a disaster — was unusual, Walden said. The last time Carle remembers flooding disasters of this year’s magnitude were in 2002 and 2006.
The Federal Highway Administration is contributing $2.9 million and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is giving $300,000 to the Peninsula in disaster aid to repair roadways, said Carle, who was involved in the negotiations.
Between the Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs, the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates about $4 to $8 million in loans it will need to provide for property damage, SBA spokesperson Yolanda Stokes said.
The borough always has on hand $50,000 to respond immediately to emergencies, Walden said, but running heavy equipment in Seward — the area hit the hardest on the Peninsula — cost about $30,000 daily.
“When we get to a point when we see this is going to overlap a number of days and it’s going to be a big problem, we immediately contact the administration to give them as qualified an estimate as we can, as far as how long this might last and what the costs may be,” Walden said.
Carle said the worst road washout on the Peninsula was the Mile 11 Kalifornsky Beach Road culvert failure that closed the road for days. Repairing it, she said, cost $1.5 million.
“When the culvert collapsed it just sucked everything in with it and blew out the entire road,” she said.
There is also severe embankment failure at mile 57 on the Sterling Highway, just west of Cooper Landing, she said. DOT is considering installing 600 linear feet of armor rock to barricade further erosion, she said.
“Even though (the Central Peninsula) wasn’t damaged to the extent that some of the other areas were, there’s still some significant damage that’s going to have to be fixed in the spring,” Walden said.
He anticipates about $500,000 to $600,000 in road work over the spring and summer.
Last winter, the Peninsula also, along with the rest of Alaska, saw heavy levels of snow, said Dave Stricklan, a hydrometeorological technician for the National Weather Service in Anchorage.
The high levels of snow — which began in November and dumped until April — are, however, not examples of the extreme, Stricklan said — nor were the wind storms last year or this year’s flooding.
“If you pick four years on average and looked at weather events you would see that the winters matched up with past years,” he said. “As I can see it, I don’t see anything extreme.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.