Following the recommendation from his “disaster cabinet,” Gov. Sean Parnell on Monday declared the Kenai Peninsula flooding a state disaster, making the damages eligible for state recovery aid.
The declaration came as freezing temperatures halted the flowing floodwater, which is largely expected to begin again whenever the temperatures rise enough to thaw thousands of acres of ice. That ice is expected to increase the damage to Kenai Peninsula Borough infrastructure, such as roads, and to some homes and businesses that were inundated with water when the freeze set in.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said that early damage estimates of public property hovered around $500,000. But many of the roads in the Kalifornsky Beach area, which was hardest hit, remained saturated when the freeze started and the costs associated with the flood will likely grow after the freeze damage reveals itself, he said.
Earlier in the month, the borough estimated private property damages to be in the neighborhood of $2.1 million.
In a Monday press release Parnell said that with a state declaration, recovery programs to repair infrastructure, as well as recovery strategies for individual homes damaged in the flood, will be enacted as appropriate.
“Having been in Kenai when much of this disaster was unfolding, I personally witnessed the extensive damage taking place,” said in the release.
Parnell was in town on Oct. 28 to attend a fundraiser when Navarre was able to get him to visit at least one flood site in the K-Beach area.
Navarre said it was “great” that the public aid declaration came through, but in some ways it’s more important that the individual declaration came through. That was something the borough tried to emphasize with the state, he said. There is a lot of impact there on homes, wells, septic systems and furnaces, he said.
First will come state and FEMA investigators who will determine the cause and nature of damage to “critical” public infrastructure throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The repairs to roads and bridges will be open to state funding and maybe federal funding, Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management spokesperson Jeremy Zidek said. That team was on the road Tuesday to begin assessing the public aid potential, he said.
The state is pursuing FEMA relief for damage to public property but foregoing federal aid for private property. The federal disaster public threshold is relatively low and more commonly met, Zidek said. Federal individual assistance is relatively rare and requires the involvement of many homes in a more widespread and severe disaster than happened in the Central Peninsula, he said.
During a Nov. 5 public meeting, Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management operations section chief Kerry Siefert said that the groundwater flooding that occurred prior to heavy rain event on Oct. 27 and 28 doesn’t count as a disaster. The state encourage all who think they suffered damages as a result of flooding to apply and let the investigators sort out qualifications.
Tuesday, Zidek said damages from the flood will be eligible.
Navarre said it’s going to be difficult for investigators to distinguish between the two types of floods because damage that occurred from groundwater flooding would have been exacerbated by the surface flood on the 28th.
“There will be frustration,” Navarre said.
“The answer, unfortunately, will be case by case,” Zidek said.
Under state law, the maximum state individual aid available is tied to one-half the maximum federal aid per household. That amounts to a maximum possible $15,834.50, if the damage is declared by investigators to be the result of the Oct. 28 flooding event.
Local plumbing contractor, K-Beach area land developer and resident Dave Yragui said he was glad to hear that the governor declared a disaster, but remains skeptical on the hair-splitting difference of damage caused by the Oct. 28 storm run-off and the slow moving groundwater flood that over months prior to the rainstorm filled the 6,0000-acre swamp and spilled over into private property, flooding septic systems and their drain fields which in turn tainted wells and polluted basements and crawlspaces of about 120 homes.
“I don’t think that they have a good understanding of what the flood is,” he said. “I don’t know how they would determine if it was the 27th-28th or the water events leading up to it?”
Zidek said he’s not sure when the individual process would begin. At some point the state will establish a hotline for private property owners and residents affected by the October flooding, but Zidek could not say when. Also to be opened in the borough and staffed by state caseworkers is a disaster assistance center.
Borough Emergency Management Director Scott Walden did not return calls Tuesday, but Navarre, who was at a conference in Anchorage, said the emergency management folks were in meetings Tuesday trying to “map out” a plan for the assistance center.
“There is no timeline yet,” Navarre said.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org.