Flooding declared a disaster

Had the water not begun to recede Monday night, Julie Wendt was prepared to put her goats and chickens in the second story of her Kalifornsky Beach barn. Her pigs had already been sold off to protect them from the flooding.

 

Tuesday, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre declared a “Disaster Emergency” after a weekend of heavy rains pushed a 6,000-acre groundwater flood to new heights, damaging borough infrastructure from Anchor Point to Seward and re-inundating homes and businesses in the Kalifornsky Beach area.

Monday, rushing water turned roads into streams and ditches into canals as floodwater looked for a way to drain into Cook Inlet. With nowhere to go, the water refilled basements and crawlspaces that had only recently dried out, and heavy pumps moved water from ditch to ditch over roads and driveways built without culverts. Heavy machinery was seen trenching throughout the flooded area in effort to drain personal property as septic systems overflowed.

“The bottom line is that there is no drainage, no place for the water to go,” said Dave Yragui, a plumbing contractor and real estate developer that bought 500 acres in the flooded area. For weeks Yragui has tried to talk the borough into building a canal on 7th Street to drain the flooding into a beaver pond that has several culverts running under Kalifornsky Beach Road into Cook Inlet.

The closest route to drain the nine square miles of flooded swamp and wetland is three-quarters of a mile away, according to the disaster declaration submitted by the borough. The flooding, which began mid-September, hit homeowners in the area the hardest. Several have reportedly walked away from homes they believe totaled.

Navarre mentioned one woman called to say the water shutdown her furnace as overnight temperatures fell below freezing. He estimated that 30 or 40 people would be temporarily displaced.

“There has been a lot of loss,” Navarre said.

With the disaster declared by the borough, the next step comes from the Alaska’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which will send a team to investigate the cause of the flooding and the damage left behind.

Jeremy Zidek, spokesperson for state emergency management, said the damage assessment team will work with hydrologists, the National Weather Service and the borough to create a fact sheet which will be delivered to Gov. Sean Parnell’s disaster cabinet. They will make a recommendation to the governor, he said.

Parnell’s office can’t say what the timeline for the report is but, Sharon Leighow, a spokesperson for Parnell, said they would know more today.

Leighow said that Parnell had a brief tour of the Kalifornsky flood area Monday, while in the area on unrelated business. Parnell’s Facebook page pledged assistance from the state “as needed by the borough.”

The state emergency office provides two basic forms of aid, public and individual. Zidek said aid to repair losses to public infrastructure was most common, but that if the investigation shows private individual losses to meet the definitions of disaster, in accordance with state law, some aid was likely. Individual assistance tops out at $14,950, he said.

Aid is a long way off, Zidek said. For now, the most important thing people who have suffered losses from the flooding can do is fill out a Flood Damage Report, which can be found on the borough’s emergency management webpage, Zidek said.

“The more documentation we have the more clear picture (of damage) we have,” Zidek said.

During the weeks of slow flooding prior to the weekend deluge and its increased damage, 30 people had filled out reports.

Wendt said she filed information on damages to her property, which she estimated to be $30,000, but said she had no idea on how long a response would take or what that response might be.

“I’ll wait and see, I guess,” said Wendt.

 

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

 

Flood damage report http://www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency-mgmt/flood/flood-damage-report-form or call 907-262-4910.

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