Borough: experts en route to examine K-beach flooding

Driveways are eroding. Yards are filling. Roads are deepening. Septic systems, wells and basements are likely under water.

 

Since the 5,000-acre swamp near the north end of Kalifornsky Beach Road began flooding two and a half weeks ago, many area roads have been lined with silver culverts and fresh-dredged ditches. Hardest hit are the lands between Bridge Access and Unocal Airport roads, said Paul Ostrander, Kenai Peninsula Borough Chief of Staff.

The source of the problem is the elevated water table, Ostrander said.

The big question is, he said: “Is this a natural occurrence, or is there something that has exacerbated the problem?”

Ostrander, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre and members from the borough Office of Emergency Management met Thursday morning to try to understand why the Kalifornsky Beach properties and roads are flooding and what can be done. They have not yet found a permanent solution, Ostrander said.

The borough will meet with hydrologists and various agencies Tuesday to address the flooding, Ostrander said. Office of Emergency Management Director Scott Walden said the borough sent maps and water flow charts to Alaska Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, River Watch, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities on Thursday. The borough hopes those agency hydrologists can explain what is abnormal and what can be solved, Walden said.

The borough doesn’t know definitively what has elevated the water, but Ostrander suspects it was the rainfall last fall and the deep snowpack two winters ago, he said.

The borough does not yet know if underwater septic systems have contaminated the water, Walden said. Private tests may yield mixed results, as best results are gleaned once the water has receded, he said.

Information for flooded residents can be found at the borough’s Office of Emergency Management website.

Meanwhile, a flood advisory has been issued for the Kenai River.

Borough Roads Director Pat Malone said Wednesday night’s rainfall pumped at least 2 million gallons of water into the swamp. And the swamp is already saturated, he said.

That water flows downhill until it hits a road, and then it washes down the roads and ditches and through culverts, until it hits another road or driveway, Malone said. He and his crews and a borough contractor have been digging the ditches and laying the culverts to keep the water flowing, but there are too many roads and too many driveways, he said.

“What I’m saying is throwing a few more ditches in the ground isn’t going to be adequate to drain it,” he said.

Others parties have been taking action, too.

Dave Yragui, who owns property directly west of the swamp, said his ranch fields are 4 to 6 inches underwater. For 13 years he has lived at his property off Eastway Road, and he has never seen flooding this extreme, he said.

Yragui began digging ditches and laying culverts three weeks ago. He has spent $20,000, and he can’t spend anymore, he said.

“It’s not stopping,” he said. “It’s getting worse.”

He said the borough has been “running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” so he sought solutions himself. Many others are doing the same, Malone said.

But the borough encourages residents to sit tight, Ostrander said. Unpermitted actions can actually increase flood flow and road erosion, Malone said. They can also inundate downstream neighbors, Ostrander said.

The borough hopes by next week it will have the answers residents need, Ostrander said.

Further up Eastway Road, John Wichman walked through puddles to the stream cutting across his driveway. He carried a shovel.

Wednesday morning, the water had collected in a deep ditch upstream of his driveway. Wednesday night, the stream began trickling to other side.

His neighbor is to blame, he said: That upstream resident had dug ditches to irrigate his property; now it’s flowing into Wichman’s.

Wichman skipped work Thursday morning to dig ditches. Already his kennels were under water. Without the ditches, he said his garage would likely be too.

To embed a culvert beneath his driveway would cost $350, he said. But even with the culvert, the water would still pool at his neighbor’s driveway 100 feet downstream, he said.

Wichman doesn’t know what’s going on, he said.

“My dad’s lived in the neighborhood since 1980, just around the bluffs, and he has never seen it flood like this,” he said.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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