The beaches at the mouths of the two rivers that hug the community of Ninilchik are disappearing.
The Southern Kenai Peninsula State Parks Citizens Advisory Board and Alaska State Parks officials toured the eroding costal Ninilchik State Recreation Area and Deep Creek State Recreation Area on Nov. 20.
Kenai Area State Parks Superintendant Jack Blackwell said although the beach at Ninilchik had been eroding for about 20 years at an unknown rate, a storm took out enough beachfront to force parks to close the campground.
Mike Schuster, advisory board deputy chair, said the 2010 storm wiped out 30 campsites.
Schuster said the site was a critical asset.
“Traditionally, as far as our parks in Ninilchik go, that has been identified by the community and by park users as the longest traditionally used asset of the park, was that campground on the beach,” Schuster said.
The area left at the park has been re-designated as day parking, he said.
Deep Creek park, in comparison, had not suffered much erosion before 2010, Schuster said, but since then there has been a “dramatic increase” in the amount of erosion.
Overall Deep Creek has lost about 15 campsites, Schuster said, with significant loss occurring in 2012. He said in an effort to provide campsites, some day parking has been redefined for that purpose.
State Parks Chief of Design and Construction Rys Miranda said a “perfect storm” combination of a high tide and high wind caused the ocean to wash about 15 feet of beach out from behind during a September 2012 storm. Through a statewide major disaster declaration the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated about $135,000 to replace the beach that was lost to the storm.
“The way the FEMA money works is (parks) can’t really improve the site, (parks) can only bring it back to pre-disaster conditions,” Miranda said.
Miranda said preliminary engineering work and design has been completed at Deep Creek, and expects the project to go out for bid later this winter.
The plan calls for material to be brought in to rebuild the lost beachfront as well as logs for parking bumpers. The reconstruction, slated to begin in the spring, will likely face erosion issues as well, Miranda said.
He said long-term solutions to the erosion problems at both beaches would be costly.
“The knee-jerk response is to use riprap or the rock armoring. … The challenge is there is no rock on that side of the peninsula,” Miranda said.
Schuster said there hasn’t been funding available or sought to work on the erosion issue at the parks. To do anything significant to work on the problem, will require capital funding, he said.
He said it was generally agreed at the meeting that the first step is to secure funding for a study on the erosion, and, for about $50,000, he said the board could afford engineering and hydrology studies.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Brent Johnson, who toured the beaches, said the rough estimate to construct rock armor at Deep Creek to prevent further erosion came in at $4.5 million. He said that might not solve the problem; it might only buy some time. He said another option might be to relocate the campground facilities.
Schuster said a study would help parks and the board to further establish feasible options.
“Natural causes are eroding our beaches and are wiping out infrastructure along there,” Schuster said. “Man can only do so much to cope with what Mother Nature’s going to throw at him. And is there any common sense in spending millions of dollars to try to protect something that ultimately can’t be protected, it just can’t be overcome?”
Schuster blames the accelerated erosion rate of the last three years on climate change — rising seal levels and the severity of storms.
“The oceans are wreaking destruction on the entire West Coast. … We are in a weather trend and climate trend that supports higher intensity storms — prevailing wind directions that are most destructive and have highest impact upon our beaches,” he said. “So largely the primary cause that we identify is this change and development of a prevailing destructive weather pattern that intensifies a natural erosion process that occurs at the mouth of all of our rivers.”
Schuster expects the loss of the campsites taken out by the recent storms to impact the local economy as well.
He said a major attraction for Nininchik visitors is that the community is a gateway to the lower Cook Inlet and beach campsites provide proximity to recreational activities like clamming and fishing.
“Without the campgrounds here, many people and many park users and visitors will not use and visit Ninilchik because the facilities that they want are no longer there,” he said.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.